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McDonnell v. United States (Amicus Brief)

On April 6, the Brennan Center filed an amicus brief in support of the United States.

Published: April 6, 2016

On April 6, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and attorneys with the law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer US LLP filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in McDonnell v. United States. The brief argues that the actions for which former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was convicted in 2015 are not protected by the First Amendment.

In January 2015, McDonnell was convicted of accepting gifts, including more than $175,000 in cash, luxury vacations, and shopping sprees, from businessman Jonnie Williams in exchange for using his office to advance Williams’ business interests. After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the conviction on July 10, 2015, McDonnell appealed to the Supreme Court.

McDonnell and a number of amici argue that his actions were nothing more than “ordinary politics” and are protected by the First Amendment under Citizens United and other recent Supreme Court cases.

This vision of democracy is not one that the Framers of the First Amendment would recognize, however. As the Brennan Center’s brief argues, McDonnell’s argument depends on a misreading of recent Supreme Court rulings. The Court has never held that an elected official has a constitutional right to use his office to promote a benefactor’s private business goals in exchange for money. If it did, that would call into question the integrity of our entire political system.

The jury in the trial court sentenced McDonnell to two years in prison after convicting him on charges of public corruption, but the sentence was stayed pending the Supreme Court’s final decision. This appeal represents McDonnell’s last chance to avoid prison time.


US Supreme Court Merits Briefs

US Supreme Court Amicus Briefs

In Support of Petitioner

In Support of the United States


Earlier US Supreme Court Documents

Amicus Briefs in Support of Petition for a Writ of Certiorari