Document Type

Supreme Court Commentaries

Publication Date



Bribery, Anti-Corruption, Constitutional Avoidance, Unconstitutional Vagueness

Subject Category

Constitutional Law | Supreme Court of the United States


McDonnell v. United States involved the former Governor of Virginia leveraging the power of his position to help a wealthy constituent gain access to top state decision makers in exchange for valuable gifts and loans. The Government argued that conduct like setting up phone calls and meetings, as well as hosting receptions on behalf of the constituent was sufficient to constitute an “official act” under public corruption laws. Governor McDonnell argued for a narrower interpretation of “official act,” claiming that his conduct was akin to run of the mill things public officials do every day to benefit their constituents. The Court sided with Governor McDonnell and adopted a narrow interpretation of “official act,” excluding the conduct of setting up of meetings or phone calls and hosting receptions standing alone. This paper argues that this was a reasonable decision by the Court, but the new rule may not serve as a perfect remedy to solve the problem of public corruption.