Enron CEO Before Supreme Court: What's at Stake

A law used to prosecute corrupt execs and officials could be overturned

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On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear an appeal by former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling. Could the widely-reviled Skilling get his conviction overturned?

That depends on two issues at the heart of the case. First, his lawyers argue that it was impossible for him to get a fair trial in Houston, where public resentment was boiling against him. Then there's a weightier legal issue at stake. Skilling's team has challenged the constitutionality of a fraud law that makes it illegal to plot to deprive others of the "intangible right of honest services." The law has helped lawyers prosecute countless corruption cases, but Skilling's defense argues it's too vague to be constitutional. If the Supreme Court overturns the law, legal experts are concerned it could pave the way for fraudsters to elude prosecution.

  • 'Alas, the Bad Guys are Right,' declares legal analyst Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic. "Skilling (and his boss, Kenneth Lay,) never should have been tried in that city at that time."
  • Which Could Mean Clearing Them  "For Skilling," observes Daily Finance's Abigail Field, "holding a retrial in another venue has the potential to wipe out all of his convictions." But she points out that actually, "the more important legal issue" at stake here is the "'intangible right of honest services.' That statute is a favorite of prosecutors, and ironically was passed by Congress in 1987 in order to overturn a different Supreme Court decision. If the Justices strike down this one, it'll be interesting to see if Congress wants to take a third crack at passing this kind of anti-corruption law."
  • Court Strangely Eager to Rule on 'Honest Services,' writes Lyle Denniston, analyzing the case at the ever-informative Scotusblog. "It is already clear that there is, among some members of the Court (most notably, Justice Antonin Scalia), a deep skepticism about the constitutionality of the... law." Also, "the Court moved the Skilling case ahead on its docket, to give the Court an earlier chance to hear lawyers' argument on it."
  • Which Seems Suspect  The Citizens United decision has made a permanent Scalia critic of Jim White at progressive blog hub Firedoglake. White finds the Justice Scalia's apparent eagerness to side with the defense odd, but decides "the strange bedfellows aspect... is resolved when we realize that the list of high profile cases [under the law in question]...  is taken right from the social list of his buddies who support our corporatist states of America."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.