These past two weeks have been quite a whirlwind: the Brexit vote, the SCOTUS ruling on Texas’s restrictive abortion laws, the white nationalist, neo-Nazi rally in Sacramento, the devastating triple suicide bombing in Turkey. Between this and much more news, it was probably fairly difficult to keep track of the Supreme Court ruling on Governor Bob McDonnell.
McDonnel vs. United States seems to have been overlooked by the media in between all the other recent news. However, the ruling seems to have legally changed to the role that elected officials play in the government.
The case involved now-former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell who had accepted $170,000 from a businessman in exchange for business promotion and persuading state universities to study its products. This, on the front, seems pretty close to what we would call “bribery” and then call “corruption.” However, McDonnell has some poor follow through.
For whatever reason, these promotions never took place. While McDonnell did set up some meetings, the Supreme Court eventually ruled that those were not considered “official acts”—the exact language of the law that prohibits corruption.
While prosecutors stated that this act looks just as similar to other convicted corruption cases, McDonnell’s lawyers said that they relied too heavily on the “boundless” definition of the crime.
While the court seemed to be focused more so on due justice, a crucial aspect in our system, rather than conviction, there is no doubt that this has changed the definition of corruption for the past and future. Since the ruling that came out on June 27, there have been multiple officials that have already called for a retrial.
It’s not just a few years of convictions, but 700 years of corruption convictions, which are now impacted. Now, instead of the broad definition of corruption that has always existed, it has been devastatingly narrowed. As we face a time of increasing political uncertainty, political corruption has now become just that much harder to legally prove and convict.
However, these corruption laws were not originally supposed to be narrow. They were intentionally broad in order to convict those who were involving themselves in corrupt acts. This unanimous 8–0 conviction could change the prosecution of political corruption forever. This ruling was based in determining that “influence” was just too broad to convict upon and resolve when talking about the reception of gifts when in office.
Now, in other prosecutions of political corruption, this case will be cited in order to relieve those in question of a conviction. Within moments of the Monday ruling, lawyers all over the country were preparing and demanding for retrials of their clients’ previously convicted corruption.
This ruling in many ways reflects the change in our government officials from public servants to something closer to an employee or employer. But we should not support this change and neither should our government. In this case, the Supreme Court, as one of our governmental branches that was intended to provide checks and balances in the U.S. political system, was supposed to uphold the correct role of our public officials.
We need to uphold our elected officials to the highest standard. And let’s be honest, the highest standard is hard. It is incredibly difficult to hold yourself up to the highest ethical and moral ceiling, but this is what’s needed for our communities, and for our country. Being an elected public official should not be an ego trip or an abuse of power. It should not be a space for people to claim their influence without producing anything.
I understand, I am being hard. I am being difficult. I am asking a lot, because I am asking for our communities to be respected and fought for, the way they should be. Public officials are public servants, and we should expect them to be. We do not hire them for backdoor deals to be made for personal gain, we hire them to protect and serve.