Skip Navigation
Court Case Tracker

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