Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Highlights From the Black and Weyhrauch Oral Arguments

Reviewing the transcripts of today's Oral Arguments in the Black and Weyhrauch cases (for background see here), here are some additional highlights:


  • Justice Scalia - "you speak as though it is up to us to write the statute. We can make it mean whatever it - you know, whatever would -- would save it or whatever we think is a good idea, but that's not our job."
  • Chief Justice Roberts -"I don't know where the concept of 'right' comes in, which is in the statute." ...."The right is not limited to specific legal obligations, but to a developing Federal common law of criminal liability?"
  • Justice Alito - "Well, since the -- since the body of pre-McNally lower court cases was hardly completely consistent, do you think this is a workable approach?


  • Justice Ginsburg - "The real problem with your approach, which I take it is you have to find these duties in State law, is that some States will classify the same conduct as a felony that another will classify it as a misdemeanor. So that line won't work. And then some States will make something criminal that other States won't.   So you are going to have, depending on geography, people potentially subject to a 20-year term because of the particularities of -- of a -- the State law."
  • Chief Justice Roberts - "Well, that is a familiar common law term (referring to the phrase 'malice aforethought'). Honest services is not."

One of the most interesting aspects of the argument was to hear the government using "materiality" as their claim for protecting the statute from the host of problems being raised.  It was an argument in their brief, so this was no surprise.  But hearing this argument and noting what Conrad Black's attorneys point out was said by the Government in the Neder case, the case where the Court found the requirement of materiality, has a certain irony. (see here).  

Weyhrauch Argument here

Black Argument here

Guest Blogger Timothy O'Toole provides commentary on the oral arguments here. Scotus Blog commentary can be found here.  Mark Sherman, USA Today (AP), Court Reviews Law Used Against Abramoff, Skilling, Others



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