Comment On The Supreme Court’s Decision In Skilling v. United States

[The U.S. Supreme Court Thursday issued a ruling in Skilling v. United States that vacated the conviction of former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling.  The Court also issued decisions vacating the convictions of two other fraud and corruption defendants.  The Court dramatically limited the honest services fraud statute used to secure his conviction by holding that it only applies to cases involving bribery or kickbacks and not other important types of economic or intangible harm.  Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is the author of the Public Corruption Prosecution Improvements Act, which was reported by the Judiciary Committee in March 2009.]

The Court has significantly narrowed the honest services fraud statute, a key tool for prosecutors to protect American taxpayers from fraud and corruption.  In doing so, the Court has once again disregarded the will of Congress and undermined those efforts to protect Americans from abuses by powerful corporate and political interests. 

Congress passed the honest services fraud statute in 1987 after the Supreme Court, over the dissent of Justice Stevens, overturned decades of case law sanctioning charges of honest services fraud.  In passing this important legislation, Congress clearly expressed its intent to give prosecutors a powerful tool to stop government officials who act to enrich themselves rather than serve the people, and corporate officials who look out for themselves at the expense of shareholders and the public good.  This vital statute has been used in key cases ranging from the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal to the crimes that led to the catastrophic collapse of Enron.  It is crucial for holding accountable the corporate criminals whose actions did so much to contribute to the current financial crisis which has harmed so many Americans.

The Court has today turned its back on its own precedent and the considered judgments of Congress to dismantle a law vital to fighting corruption and fraud.  By issuing decisions benefitting corrupt officials who violate the peoples’ trust, and corrupt business people who disregard fairness and risk, the Court has once again undermined the government’s ability to protect the interests of hardworking Americans.

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