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Court kicks kickback case’s crux (Sabri v. United States)

Quimbee-Sabri v. United States

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In an effort to fight bribery at the local level, Congress passed an anti-corruption statute. The statute made it a federal crime to bribe a local official affiliated with any governmental entity that received federal funds.

But Congress’s power to pass such a law came under scrutiny in Sabri v. United States, 541 U.S. 600 (2004).

Real estate developer Basim Sabri offered thousands of dollars in bribes to a Minneapolis city councilman who sat on the board of a community-development agency. Both the city council and the agency administered substantial amounts of federal funding.

When Sabri was charged with violating the anti-corruption statute, he sought dismissal on the ground that the statute was unconstitutional. Sabri argued that Congress’s failure to require the government to prove a direct connection between the bribe and federal funds rendered the statute unconstitutional.

The district court initially dismissed the indictment, but the government appealed. Ultimately, the United States Supreme Court took up the case to resolve a circuit split.

The Court upheld the law, concluding that Congress had the power to criminalize bribes involving governmental entities that received federal funds, with or without a direct connection to federal money. In so doing, the Court reaffirmed a long line of cases holding that Congress has broad authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause to enact laws rationally related to its enumerated powers, such as the power to tax and spend.

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