“Has the Supreme Court Legalized Public Corruption?

Important Matt Ford in The Atlantic:

Menendez has denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyers argue the favors don’t rise to the newly heightened standard of official acts. Federal prosecutors, for their part, argue that the stream of benefits that flowed from Melgen to Menendez meet the threshold under federal law without linking specific quids to specific quos. Even though Walls declined to dismiss the charges against the lawmaker, he could still dismiss some of them later in the trial if the prosecution fails to present enough evidence. And like McDonnell himself, Menendez could also challenge any convictions under the stream-of-benefits theory on appeal.

Behind these legal doctrines and prosecutorial theories are questions about the popular legitimacy of the republican system—about voters being able to trust that the officials they elect aren’t the puppets of the country’s richest patrons. What McDonnell and other recent public-corruption rulings risk are institutions where cash and favors flow freely, where consequences are exceptional, and where public vice is made indistinguishable from civic virtue. No Americans expect a government of saints, but they expect their government to be able to root out the sinners in its midst.


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