Speaking before the Supreme Court justices, Francisco laid out the case that his client should not have been convicted because he did not “make a government decision or urge someone else to do so,” and added that the corruption laws were not meant to be “comprehensive codes of ethical conduct.”
Lyle Denniston at SCOTUS Blog added, “At the center of McDonnell’s challenge is whether he performed any ‘official acts …'” and continued, “It was that single phrase, ‘official acts,’ that was the target of the most skeptical of the Justices on Wednesday. Justice Kennedy ridiculed it as reaching even a janitor who took a bottle of beer for doing some extra cleaning in an office. Justice Breyer said it was so open-ended that no member of Congress could ask any government official to look into the private matter of interest for a political donor. Chief Justice Roberts marveled at the ‘extraordinary’ fact that a bevy of former White House staff lawyers who had served several presidents submitted an amicus brief warning of the dreadful consequences for democracy if the McDonnell verdict stood.”
Afterward, feedback from news outlets was positive and hopeful that the conviction would be overturned.
Reuters wrote that the Justices expressed doubt and added, “During the one-hour argument, several justices signaled that McDonnell’s action in taking $177,000 in gifts and loans from a businessman seeking to promote a dietary supplement did not constitute a criminal act. Chief Justice John Roberts went further, suggesting the statutes under which McDonnell was convicted could be so broad as to be unconstitutionally vague.”
Headlines from other media outlets were equally positive.