Supreme Court Review 2016/2017 TERM
MONDAY, JULY 24, 2017
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Issue:  What Constitutes "Official Action"

McDonnell v. United States

15-474

QUESTION(S) PRESENTED

I. Under the federal bribery statute, Hobbs Act, and honest-services fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. §§ 201, 1346, 1951, it is a felony to agree to take “official action” in exchange for money, campaign contributions, or any other thing of value. The question presented is whether “official action” is limited to exercising actual governmental power, threatening to exercise such power, or pressuring others to exercise such power, and whether the jury must be so instructed; or, if not so limited, whether the Hobbs Act and honest-services fraud statute are unconstitutional.

II. In Skilling v. United States, this Court held that juror screening and voir dire are the primary means of guarding a defendant’s right to an impartial jury against the taint of pretrial publicity. 561 U.S. 358, 388-89 (2010). The question presented is whether a trial court must ask potential jurors who admit exposure to pretrial publicity whether they have formed opinions about the defendant’s guilt based on that exposure and allow or conduct sufficient questioning to uncover bias, or whether courts may instead rely on those jurors’ collective expression that they can be fair.

DECISION

Decided June 27, 2016 HOLDING

An “official act” is a decision or action on a “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy.” That question or matter must involve a formal exercise of governmental power, and must also be something specific and focused that is “pending” or “may by law be brought” before a public official. To qualify as an “official act,” the public official must make a decision or take an action on that question or matter, or agree to do so. Setting up a meeting, talking to another official, or organizing an event—without more—does not fit that definition of “official act.” Given the Court’s interpretation of “official act,” the District Court’s jury instructions were erroneous, and the jury may have convicted Governor McDonnell for conduct that is not unlawful. Because the errors in the jury instructions are not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, the Court vacates Governor McDonnell’s convictions.

Agree image Justice Sotomayor
Agree Sotomayor
Agree image Justice Breyer
Agree Breyer
Agree image Justice Thomas
Agree Thomas
Recused image Justice Scalia
Recused Scalia
Author image Chief Justice Roberts
Author Roberts
Agree image Justice Kennedy
Agree Kennedy
Agree image Justice Ginsburg
Agree Ginsburg
Agree image Justice Alito
Agree Alito
Agree image Justice Kagan
Agree Kagan

ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Text of Opinion
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ORAL ARGUMENT

Argued April 27, 2016

Appearences
On Behalf of Petitioners Robert F. McDonnell
Noel J. Francisco, Esq.
On Behalf of Respondents United States
Michael R. Dreeben, Deputy Solicitor GenĀ­eral
Transcript
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Audio
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Merit Briefs
Brief for Robert F McDonnell (pdf download)
Brief for United States (pdf download)
Reply Breif of Robert F McDonnell (pdf download)
Amicus Curiae Briefs
Amicus Brief of Virginia Law Professors supporting Petitioner (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Members of the Virginia General Assembly supporting Petitioner (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Benjamin Todd Jealous, Dolores McQuinn, and Algie T Howell supporting Petitioner (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Law Professors supporting Petitioner (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of James Madison Center for Free Speech supporting Petitioner (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of 77 Former State Attorneys General (non - Virginian) supporting Petitioner (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Republican Governors Public Policy Committee supporting Petitioner (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Public Policy Advocates and Business Leaders supporting Petitioner (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of US Justice Foundation, et al supporting Petitioner (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of American Center for Law and Justice supporting Petitioner (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Former Federal Officials supporting Petitioner (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Former Virginia Attorneys General supporting Petitioner (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers supporting Petitioner (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Campaign Legal Center supporting Respondent (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Public Citizen, Inc, and Democracy 21 supporting Respondent (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Judicial Watch, Inc and Allied Educational Foundation supporting Respondent (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law supporting Respondent (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington supporting Respondent (pdf download)

PROCEEDING BELOW

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Decided July 10, 2015
pdf download


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