A reprieve for former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, and, perhaps, for elected officials accused of corruption in general. A unanimous Supreme Court on Monday overturned the bribery conviction of McDonnell, who was in 2014 found guilty of taking more than $165,000 in gifts—including a $6,500 Rolex—and loans from a wealthy businessman in exchange for promoting a dietary supplement. He was sentenced to two years in prison, but was allowed to remain free while the justices weighed his appeal. (A federal appeals court unanimously upheld the conviction last year.) The justices voted to narrow the scope of a law that bars public officials from taking gifts in exchange for "official action," saying it does not cover routine courtesies like setting up meetings or hosting events for constituents, the AP reports.
McDonnell said he never took any official action to benefit Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams but only helped a constituent gain access to other public figures—"everyday acts," he said, that were a typical part of the job. Prosecutors insisted that McDonnell accepted personal benefits with the understanding he would try to take official action to help Williams. Though the Washington Post notes Chief Justice John Roberts emphasized the case was "distasteful; it may be worse than that," he agreed with McDonnell that the jury instruction of "official acts" at his trial was so broad it could include virtually any action a public official might take while in office, leaving politicians across the country subject to the whims of prosecutors. The appeal of wife Maureen McDonnell's own corruption conviction has been on hold pending the SCOTUS ruling. (Read more US Supreme Court stories.)