Brennan Center Responds to Sheldon Silver's Overturned Conviction

July 13, 2017

Published: 07/13/2017

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the 2015 corruption conviction of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and ordered a new trial in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in McDonnell v. United States. Silver’s conviction stemmed from the use of his official position to benefit a prominent cancer researcher and two real estate developers in exchange for payments totaling nearly $4 million routed through his legal practice.
The Second Circuit concluded that the trial court’s original jury instruction provided an overly expansive definition of an “official act” that could give rise to an illegal quid pro quo, in light of McDonnell’s holding that such an act must involve an exercise of formal government power and some concrete decision or action on the part of the accused official beyond simply taking a meeting or organizing an event.
“It is important to recognize that today’s ruling does not in any way mean that Mr. Silver’s conduct was legal,” said Daniel I. Weiner, Senior Counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “McDonnell is a narrow decision that leaves plenty of room for the government to forbid officials from using public office for private benefit. That being said, today’s ruling does further underscore that federal bribery law is not enough to protect the integrity of our democracy. We need other common-sense protections, including reasonable campaign contributions limits, which New York State currently lacks.”

 Read more about the Brennan Center’s work on money in politics.

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