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  • Writer's pictureRisheek Priyadarshi

Correction or Corruption? Taking a look at Snyder v. U.S. and how the Supreme Court has slowly legalized corruption

U.S. Supreme Court

Skinny jeans are out, baggier silhouettes are trendy. Or at least that’s what Gen Z has been saying. Just as millennial fashion is leaving the current cultural zeitgeist and is subtly and slowly replaced by Gen Z taste, so is the Supreme Court subtly and slowly chipping away at anti-corruption and anti-bribery laws in the U.S., changing the landscape for future enforcement.


One key example is the case of Skilling v U.S. In 2010, the Court found in favor of Jeffrey Skilling, the former Enron CEO who misled investors to believe the company’s financial health was better than it was. The Court narrowly interpreted the law in question, 18 U.S.C. § 1346, and by doing so, the federal statute, which prohibits “a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services” was ultimately limited to preclude certain types of bribery from prosecution.[1]


Since Skilling, a string of cases has continued to erode federal anti-corruption laws.[2] The next case to watch is the appeal of James Snyder, the former mayor of Portage, Indiana, who was convicted of accepting a bribe in 2019. Snyder had allegedly accepted a gratuity of $13,000 after selecting a particular city contract for purchasing garbage trucks and was found in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(B).[3] The Supreme Court heard arguments in this case on Monday, and the verdict arising from Snyder is particularly important because the law in question, § 666, is a foundation for white-collar crime, and is a law that prosecutors have relied on for years when pursuing convictions.[4]


Some experts have speculated the most likely reason that the Supreme Court agreed to hear Snyder is to chip away at the statute. If this is the case, public officials will be able to get away with more corrupt acts and accepting bribes with less fear of consequence, and it will be considerably harder to prove any violations to a jury, thus making prosecution almost impossible.

J.D. Candidate, The George Washington University Law School, Class of 2026

[2]  McDonnell v U.S., 2016; Ciminelli v U.S., 2013; Percoco v.U.S.

1 Comment

Apr 18

The Supreme Court (or any court) does not "chip away" at statutes. Before and after a court decision, the statutory language remains the same. What courts do is interpret statutory language.



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