Guest: Randall D. Eliason, former DOJ Chief of Fraud and Public Corruption Section; Also: On edge for landmark 'Chevron Deference' ruling; SCOTUS nixes EPA 'Good Neighbor' pollution rule, for now...
By Brad Friedman on 6/27/2024, 4:58pm PT  

It's our last BradCast before time off for travel over the holiday next week. Unlike years past, it looks like SCOTUS will be late in releasing all of their opinions for this term before its normal end this week, so we won't be here to comment immediately on some of the biggest decisions (or on tonight's Presidential Debate) until after our return. But we've got plenty to cover from the corrupted rightwing Court already this week, including with a guest today who suggests the analysis by many legal experts on yesterday's ruling striking down yet another part of federal public corruption law has been somewhat misleading. [Audio link to full show follows this summary.]

Among the big SCOTUS decisions still to come, is a case regarding the "Chevron Doctrine" which, for decades, has given legal deference to federal agency experts over judges or corporate challengers, when it comes to the interpretation of federal laws through rules and regulations promulgated by those federal agencies. That could all be about to change, with enormous consequences first for the EPA, but also across the entirety of the federal government --- or, the so-called "Administrative State" as rightwingers have taken to deriding it. We explain the doctrine and some remarkable ironies behind the Court's upcoming ruling, whatever it may be, today.

But the corrupted, stolen and packed rightwing Supreme Court did manage to issue several rulings today. Among them....

  • The Court rejected a multi-billion dollar nationwide opioid settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family.
  • In a clear win for corporate interests, they gutted the SEC's ability to carry out in-house proceedings on civil fraud complaints, requiring federal jury trials instead in an opinion likely to have far-reaching effects on other regulatory agencies as well.
  • SCOTUS also kicked a Presidential election year hot potato down the road for another day by allowing Idaho hospitals, for now, to perform emergency abortions under federal law, even though the procedure is barred under state law.
  • And, as we also discuss with Desi, the High Court blocked, for now, to the EPA's "Good Neighbor" rule which limited air pollution from power plants and other facilities that pollute downwind states. While the regulation has already substantially lowered pollution --- and saved lives --- in the states where it is in place, the Court prevented the EPA from enforcing it until after lower court challenges by largely Republican-controlled states and several industries are completed.

NEXT... On yesterday's show we critically covered the Wednesday SCOTUS ruling in Snyder v. U.S. [PDF], an opinion which overturned the conviction and 21-month prison sentence of an Indiana Mayor who received a $13,000 check from a company just two weeks after his city had granted them a contract worth more than a million dollars. The Court's rightwingers determined that the federal statute in question only applies to out-and-out bribery cases, where a quid pro quo was agreed upon before a public action. After-the-fact "gratuities", the Court's six Republican-appointees ruled, are apparently just fine. Or, at least, not unlawful under their reading of the federal statute in question.

While many legal analysts and experts have derided the ruling since it was issued on Wednesday, our guest today, RANDALL D. ELIASON, former chief of the Fraud and Public Corruption Section at the U.S. Attorney's Office in D.C., now a white-collar criminal law professor at George Washington University Law School, had a different take that he posted to Twitter yesterday: "I have no problem with the Snyder decision, that 18 USC §666 covers only bribes and not gratuities. I think that makes sense."

Really? Why? Today Eliason joins us to explain why the law --- which, as Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson notes in her dissent with the Court's other liberals, "imposes federal criminal penalties on agents of those entities who 'corruptly' solicit, accept, or agree to accept payments 'intending to be influenced or rewarded'" --- can arguably be interpreted as applying onlyto before-the-fact bribes, as opposed to after-the-fact "gratuities", as they are described by the Court's majority.

"I'm not happy about the outcome," Eliason concedes today. "You're right that there's been a pattern of decisions over the last more than a decade narrowing public corruption laws, and I've been critical of a lot of them. And I've been on your program being critical of a number of them in the past."

"So I'm not happy about the outcome. But I don't think the majority is being unreasonable in this particular decision. Because what this decision is about is not whether the conduct of the Mayor is a good thing, or whether it should be prohibited. It's just about the language in this particular criminal statute that Congress drafted. And it's really a badly drafted statute. It's poorly written. It's confusing. And even though the lower court in this case had upheld his conviction, several other federal courts of appeals had said the same thing, that this law does not apply to gratuities, and agreed with Snyder."

He explains that there is "a real legal distinction between a bribery and a gratuity", and that other federal statutes prohibit them both. But in this case, §666 is less than perfectly clear. And, when there is a "tie" in legal interpretation, the tie is supposed to go to the defendant who, the Court noted, can still be held accountable for accepting a gratuity under state and local laws.

"You see a lot of headlines in the wake of this decision: 'Supreme Court says bribery is okay.' No, the whole point was it wasn't bribery. It was a gratuity, which is something far less serious. And the issue was does this particular statute cover this kind of gratuity? The answer is no. I think, based on the way that statute is written, it's a reasonable outcome."

While I'm not sure I fully agree --- and even he notes that Justice Jackson makes several good arguments in her dissent --- Eliason's expertise and insight into the laws in question shed welcome light on this otherwise seemingly corrupt ruling.

On a related note, we also discuss how all of this might apply to the arguable millions of dollars in "gratuities" that members of SCOTUS, like Clarence Thomas, have accepted over the years and whether that might play into the Court majority's opinion. And how Congress, had they not become completely dysfunctional in recent years, could easily clarify this issue through simple legislation.

On one other matter before we finish our conversation with Eliason today, he offers his thoughts on SCOTUS' upcoming Fischer decision regarding whether the statute used to charge hundreds of January 6 defendants --- including Donald Trump --- with "obstruction of an official proceeding" may be struck down by the Court. Eliason is "pessimistic" about what is likely to happen, though believes that even if the Court strikes it down for use against many of those charged for the J6 insurrection, that "there's a good chance that the charges against Trump would still survive."

FINALLY... Before we disappear for the next week, Desi Doyen joins us for our latest 'Green News Report', with more thoughts on the imperiled Chevron Deference Doctrine; Climate disaster upon climate disaster this week for a New Mexico town; and some very good news indeed for President Biden's job-creating climate law...


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