The Supreme Court does not take many cases, but it was right to agree last week to review the public-corruption convictions of former Virginia governorRobert F. McDonnell . While the conduct that led to the case against McDonnell was shameful, its criminality remains unclear. And since it is difficult as a legal matter to distinguish McDonnell’s actions from those routinely engaged in by American politicians, guidance is sorely needed.
That doesn’t mean the justices should let McDonnell off the hook. When it hands down its decision, the court should make clear that McDonnell’s behavior was both politics as usual (as he claims) and a federal felony (as the government contends). That ruling would give proper deference to Congress’s authority to criminalize public corruption and mitigate the damage caused by the court’s recent decisions deregulating campaign finance.