CHICAGO – Imprisoned ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to hear an appeal of his corruption convictions that included his attempt to sell an appointment to President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat.
The court is more likely to accept cases that raise weighty and divisive legal issues, and the 83-page filing stated one such issue is questions of where the line is between the legal and illegal trading of political favors. It asks the court to clarify “what is the standard for distinguishing lawful attempts to obtain campaign contributions from criminal violations.”
The Supreme Court hears only around 80 cases a year, out of more than 10,000 requests. A decision on whether it will take on Blagojevich’s case should be made within the next few months. Blagojevich is serving a 14-year prison sentence in Colorado. A lower court tossed five of his 18 convictions in July, and he’s now asking the Supreme Court to toss the rest. An appeal to the high court is a last slim hope for Blagojevich.
One of his defense attorneys, Leonard Goodman, said earlier this year that the Supreme Court might agree to look at an issue that caused disagreement at the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: That in each case of alleged corruption, Blagojevich was participating in legal, run-of-the-mill politicking.
Allowing all the convictions to stand, Goodman said, “puts every public official who must raise campaign funds to stay in office and to be effective at the mercy of an ambitious or politically motivated federal prosecutor.”
A focus of the July ruling by the 7th Circuit striking five of Blagojevich’s conviction was the question of when an official crosses the line into illegal political wheeling and dealing.
The three-judge panel determined that Blagojevich crossed that line when he sought money – often campaign cash – for naming someone to the U.S. Senate seat that Obama vacated when he became president. But the judges said he didn’t cross it by asking for a Cabinet seat for himself.
The panel concluded that secretly trading favors based on politicians’ executive powers was a legitimate way to get things done for constituents.
Using that reasoning, the judges tossed convictions linked to Blagojevich’s bid for the Cabinet post in exchange for appointing an Obama adviser to the Senate. But they said evidence on the 13 remaining criminal counts was “overwhelming.”
In a modest win for Blagojevich, the panel ordered that he be brought back to Chicago to be resentenced. But it also said his original 14-year sentence might be considered fair even after subtracting the five overturned counts. A resentencing hearing has not yet been set; the 7th Circuit said resentencing should go ahead even if the high court agrees to hear Blagojevich’s appeal.
Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm