U.S. Supreme Court

Justices Give Unusual Leeway to Lawyer Attacking Honest Services Law


Justices interrupted a lawyer attacking an anti-corruption law only about 25 times in oral arguments yesterday, an unusual amount of leeway.

Miguel Estrada, the lawyer for convicted Hollinger International executive Conrad Black, was allowed to speak for “long stretches” as justices expressed “almost universal hostility” to the honest services law, the New York Times reports. By way of contrast, Estrada’s opponent, Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben, was interrupted more than 60 times and he was “given a rough time,” the newspaper says.

The law makes it a crime “to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.” Estrada argued the law was unconstitutionally vague, and, in any event, Black should not have been prosecuted under the law because he meant no economic harm to his company.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer suggested that the law had a broad reach. He said there might be some 150 million workers in the United States, and 140 million might be able to be prosecuted under the government’s interpretation of the law.

He gave an example. A worker who compliments the boss’s hat “so the boss will leave the room so that the worker can continue to read The Racing Form,” could be in violation of the law, he said.

The justices heard oral arguments yesterday in two cases challenging the law. The second involves former Alaska legislator Bruce Weyhrauch, who says he did not violate state law and the U.S. prosecution violates federalism principles.

Other publications covering the arguments included the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.), USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and National Law Journal.

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