Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) is sponsoring the legislation as a response to several decisions from the Supreme Court reaching back more than a decade, most recently the 2010 decision in United States v. Skilling limiting the reach of the law on “honest services” fraud.
At a hearing today before the House’s crime subcommittee, the Justice Department’s Mary Pat Brown said the department supports the proposal. She praised a section that would address public officials who attempt to profit from an official act while evading disclosure rules that would show their interest — so-called “undisclosed self-dealing.”
“It’s all about transparency,” said Brown, a deputy assistant attorney general in DOJ’s Criminal Division. “The voters need to know what their public officials are doing.”
The legislation contains a smorgasbord of other proposals. It would apply mail- and wire-fraud statutes to licenses and other intangible rights, a response to the Supreme Court’s 2000 decision in Cleveland v. United States involving a Louisiana video-poker license. It would also override the Supreme Court’s 1999 ruling in United States v. Sun-Diamond Growers, which interpreted federal bribery law to require a specific link between a gift and an official action.
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) is co-sponsoring the bill. Other provisions would expand the availability of court-ordered wiretaps and of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act; lengthen potential sentences; and extend the statute of limitations for certain crimes.
Miller & Chevalier partner Timothy O’Toole testified at the hearing on behalf of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He said many of the bill’s provisions likely would raise the same concerns about vagueness and federalism that caused the Supreme Court to rein in federal prosecutors previously.
“It is difficult to believe that existing federal, state and local criminal laws do not already reach all conduct that is properly criminal,” O’Toole said in prepared remarks. “If conduct is still somehow beyond reach, that is likely because the conduct itself is properly beyond the reach of the criminal laws.”
On the other side of the Capitol, there’s also interest in revising anti-corruption laws, especially after the Skilling decision. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has introduced legislation on the subject, and the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Leahy is chairman of, could vote on the bill as soon as Thursday.
National Law Journal photos by Diego M. Radzinschi.