WASHINGTON, D.C. (WAVY) – Virginia’s 71st Governor will appear in the nation’s highest court fighting to clear his name, and stay out of prison.
Bob McDonnell’s public corruption case has gone as far as it can, to the Supreme Court of the United States of America. Wednesday, Justices will hear oral arguments into whether McDonnell should go to prison, or if the law itself is so vague that he ends up with his name cleared and no time behind bars.
The question for the Court, did then Governor Bob McDonnell use official acts as Governor to benefit businessman Jonnie Williams? Noted local attorney Hunter Sims, “The question they want to resolve is what is an official act, and whether the definition in this particular case ‘customary practices’ is so vague that it is unconstitutional.”
That’s what we will hear on Wednesday. McDonnell’s defense team argues the law involving official acts is vague; that all McDonnell did was extend normal political courtesies to a supporter. Sims says, “Criminal laws must be clear. If they are vague then they are unconstitutional.”
What McDonnell admits to doing is asking his Secretary of Health and Human Resources, William Hazel, to meet with Jonnie Williams to find out more about Williams’ dietary Supplement Anatabloc. Williams also had a product launch in the Governor’s mansion.
Sims says, “McDonnell argues that’s just what governors do, but it is not an official act to impact a decision of the government.”
The Government successfully argued, the jury agreed, and a higher court also agreed that McDonnell accepted $170,000 in loans and gifts from Williams with the understanding McDonnell would use his own office to help Williams promote his product, and to use a state lab to test that product. McDonnell says he never told anybody to approve Anatabloc; all he did was to ask a cabinet secretary to explore the pros and cons of a product produced by a Virginia businessman.
McDonnell has maintained there was never a quid-pro-quo. McDonnell denies he arranged the meeting and promoted Williams’ product in exchange for all the loans and gifts. Emails during the trial, however, show communication from McDonnell shortly after gifts and loans were given to the McDonnells by Williams.
There was also never any testing in the state lab, but the lower court agreed it’s the intent that matters. McDonnell intended to help Williams, but Dr. Hazel rejected Anatabloc.
The Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Each side will get 30 minutes. A final decision is expected in June.
Unfortunately for McDonnell, the recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia may have hurt McDonnell’s chances of winning. Justice Scalia would likely have supported McDonnell based on the Justice’s past writings and decisions. Justice Scalia was always concerned with the vagueness of official acts and narrow interpretations.
The court has eight sitting justices. In order for McDonnell to win he must get five justices to side with him. A 4-4 tie upholds the lower court’s guilty decision and McDonnell will have to report to prison to begin serving his two-year sentence.