Is it a federal crime for government officials to accept gratuities? Supreme Court says ‘the answer is no’

Is it a federal crime for government officials to accept gratuities? Supreme Court says ‘the answer is no’

The Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that it is not a federal crime for government officials to accept gratuities of appreciation in the aftermath of an official act.

“The answer is no,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in the majority opinion regarding whether an anti-corruption law, known as Section 666, prohibited gratuities for government officials, such as gift cards, lunches, plaques, books, framed photos “or the like,” following an official act. Rather, according to the ruling, the law in question solely addresses bribes solicited or promised before an official government act has taken place. Bribes, not gratuities, are punishable by up to 10 years in prison, the court found.

The ruling was in favor of former Portage, Ind., mayor James Snyder, who in 2019 was convicted of accepting a check for $13,000 from a trucking company after the company was awarded approximately $1.1 million worth of city contracts. Snyder has since argued that the payment was for consulting services he provided for the company. He was sentenced to one year and nine months in prison before his appeal.

“State and local governments often regulate the gifts that state and local officials may accept,” Kavanaugh wrote. “Section 666 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.”

Still, Kavanaugh noted that some gratuities “can be problematic” and “raise ethical and appearance concerns.” For that reason, the matter should be left up to the states and local governments, Kavanaugh wrote.

In the court’s dissenting opinion, which argued that the law prohibited both bribes and gratuities for state and local government officials, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson pointed to the text, which “imposes federal criminal penalties on agents of those entities who ‘corruptly’ solicit, accept or agree to accept payments ‘intending to be influenced or rewarded.’”

“The word ‘rewarded’ means to have been given a reward for some action taken,” Jackson wrote. “So gratuities are plainly covered.”

Jackson also agreed with the majority that the law should not impose federal punishments for government workers whenever “grateful members of the community show their thanks.”

“But nothing about the facts of this case implicates any of that kind of conduct,” Jackson continued. “And the text of Section 666 clearly covers the kind of corrupt (albeit perhaps non-quid pro quo) payment Snyder solicited after steering the city contracts to the dealership.”

You can read the full article at American City and County.