Supreme Court Strikes Down Anti-Corruption Law on Gifts to Officials

U.S. Supreme Court

In a significant decision, the Supreme Court on Wednesday, June 26, 2024, invalidated a key provision of a federal anti-corruption law.

That provision in the law previously criminalized state and local officials accepting gifts exceeding $5,000 from donors who had benefitted from prior governmental actions.

By a 6-3 vote, the justices overturned the conviction of a former Indiana mayor who had accepted a $13,000 payment from a local truck dealership after facilitating the award of $1.1 million in city contracts for garbage trucks.

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, writing for the majority, clarified that while bribery necessitates proof of an illicit agreement, the law in question did not criminalize mere gratuities such as gift cards, lunches, or framed photos.

Kavanaugh argued that the statute primarily addressed bribery, leaving regulation of gratuities to state and local jurisdictions.

“The federal law at issue does not criminalize the acceptance of tokens of appreciation or gifts, even if substantial in value, absent evidence of an illegal arrangement,” Kavanaugh stated.

However, dissenting Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ketanji Brown Jackson criticized the majority’s decision.

Jackson particularly expressed concern over potential misuse of public office for personal gain, arguing that the law appropriately covered instances where officials sought payments in exchange for previous governmental favors.

“Officials who exploit their positions for private benefit undermine the integrity of our governmental institutions,” Jackson wrote in dissent.

She cautioned against interpreting the law narrowly, stating that it was designed to combat corruption and uphold ethical standards in public service.

The ruling underscores a shift in the interpretation of federal anti-corruption laws, prompting renewed debate over the boundaries between permissible gifts and illicit payments to public officials.