The Supreme Court decided important cases today on political bribery, abortion rights and gun rights. The highest court struck down a restrictive Texas abortion law and vacated former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell’s bribery conviction. It upheld a federal gun law that forbids gun ownership if convicted of domestic violence.
The court ruled that Texas’ HB2 draconian abortion law is unconstitutional and struck down the abortion law which unduly interferes with the rights of women to obtain an abortion. In a decided ruling of 5-3, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas HB2 law which placed strict standards against abortion doctors, clinics and almost closed all access to abortion in Texas is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court rejected Texas’ argument that the law was intended to protect women’s safety. The law was written to block women’s access to abortions in the State of Texas.
While Congress or the Senate has failed to pass any meaningful laws on gun control, the Supreme Court made clear today that no absolute right exists for gun ownership for those who have committed and been convicted of domestic violence. The Supreme Court upheld a federal law which prohibits people convicted of domestic violence from legally owning guns. In a blow to gun rights advocates, the Supreme Court made clear that the law covers intentional acts of domestic violence and those that are committed in the heat of an argument, whether misdemeanor or felony conviction.
In upholding the federal law, the Supreme Court affirms that the second amendment is not an absolute right to bear arms for those convicted of domestic violence—however it occurs. And the Supreme Court also indirectly inferred that those who are victims of domestic abuse are entitled to have gun right ownership stricken from their abusers. In many jurisdictions, local state laws also forbid the ownership of guns by those who have committed an act of domestic violence. And individuals are required to turn into law enforcement authorities any guns that they already possess.
In what was expected by many legal observers, the Supreme Court vacated the bribery conviction of Bob McDonnell with a decisive 8-0 ruling and dealt a likely death blow to Virginia federal prosecutors. By way of background, McDonnell while in office, received multiple gifts from business man Johnnie Williams consisting of loans, a paid wedding reception for his daughter, jewelry, vacation and golf trips. More specifically, the McDonnells received almost $200,000 of gifts and cash consisting of:
- $50,000 loan, without loan papers, used to pay of the McDonnell’s’ credit card debt
- $20,000 additional loan
- $15,000 payment to a caterer for the McDonell’s daughter’s wedding
- Round trip tickets for the McDonnell’s daughters to attend an out of town bachelorette party
- A lavish shopping spree in New York for Mrs. McDonnell to buy couture designer clothing and accessories for the Governor’s inauguration
- A Rolex watch, specifically requested by Mrs. McDonnell to be engraved for her husband, after seeing one on Williams’ arm
- Golf outings costing thousands of dollars
- Use of private jets
- Shares of stock
The Supreme Court did not focus on the gifts but focused on what constitutes official duties in exchange for the gifts–which is bribery if gifts are accepted in exchange for “official acts”. The highest court sparred McDonnell from jail by stating the official acts under federal corruption law means more than setting up business meetings, a launch at the governor’s mansion of Williams’ business and talking to others. And without more actions, it does not meet the bribery standard.
While the Court left open that McDonnell could be retried, it is not likely that will occur as the entire case rested on the theory that the Supreme Court struck down. What the Supreme Court stated is that it’s acceptable for lawmakers to receive the massive amounts of gifts that McDonnell received without any case, controversy or matter that may be pending. And the ruling also may have some implications for recently convicted politicians and those awaiting trials on bribery issues.
In all, Monday was a busy day of rulings for the Supreme Court.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a lawyer, legal analyst and member of the Supreme Court bar.