United States – The US Supreme Court on Wednesday endorsed a former mayor of an Indiana city who was arrested in a case where he was charged with taking a bribe in a corruption case which means federal prosecutors may face the challenge of bringing corruption charges against state and local officials.

Ruling Raises Bar

The bench decided 6-3 in the overturn of a lower court ruling that had supported the corruption conviction of the former Portage mayor James Snyder for accepting a USD 13,000 bribe from a truck company that received a million and five hundred thousand dollars of contracts throughout Snyder’s term in office.

Again, the ruling was supported by the conservative members of the court, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh writing the opinion of the majority and the liberal wing in the minority.

Nature of the Charges and Legal Interpretation

The federal prosecutors accused Snyder of corruptly soliciting payment in relation to the government contacts, an offense that attracts maximum imprisonment for a period of 10 years. He was acquitted by the jury, and a judge ordered him to serve one year and nine months in prison.

“However, the question, in this case, is whether (federal law) makes it a crime for state and local officials to accept gratuities such as gift cards, lunches, Plaques, books, framed photos, and the likes that may be offered as a show of appreciation after the official act,” Kavanaugh wrote. The answer is no.

Details of the Allegations

In 2013, when Snyder was a mayor, It was found that Portage had provided two contracts to local truck company Great Lakes Peterbilt for the purchase of five new trash trucks with a contractual value of approximately USD 1.1 million.

The following year, Peterbilt also made payments of USD 13,000 to Snyder while remaining in his term of office. Snyder qualified this as consulting fees that he rendered to the company. Kavanaugh claimed that it seems that the city of Portage, a third-class city in Indiana with 38,000 inhabitants, permits the local public officials to have other jobs.

Lower Court Ruling and Appeal

The appellate court based in Chicago, which is the Seventh U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals, dismissed Snyder’s explanation that the federal offense in question prohibits bribery, not gratuities. Because of this, Snyder proceeded to the Supreme Court as his final stand.

Kavanaugh as stated in Wednesday’s ruling stated that the federal corruption law “leaves it to state and local governments to regulate gratuities to state and local officials. ”

Federal law, Kavanaugh wrote, “does not supplement those state and local rules by subjecting 19 million state and local officials to up to 10 years in federal prison for accepting even commonplace gratuities.”

Dissenting Opinion and Concerns

Three liberal justices, including Ketanji Brown Jackson, who contributed to the dissenting opinion, also questioned how the ruling might weaken the fight against public corruption.

The government has not transformed the statute into a tool for possible conduct but it has been used to prosecute other grave cases that are associated with “exactly the firer palm greasing that the statute plainly, and that one might reasonably expect Congress to care about when targeting graft int state, local and tribes” Jackson as stated.

“After today, however, the ability of the federal government to prosecute such obviously wrongful conduct is left in doubt,” Jackson also said, as reported by Reuters.

In 2020, the court dismissed the bribery charges against an ex-aide who worked for Democratic former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo while also restricting federal prosecutors’ powers to investigate corruption cases.