Jefferson ‘Wins’ Supreme Court Case

Representative William J. Jefferson won his ‘Debate Clause’ case against the FBI but the incriminating evidence against him is still admissible.

The Supreme Court on Monday let stand a lower court ruling that the F.B.I. went too far in searching the office of Representative William J. Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat accused of using his position to promote business deals in Africa. Without comment, the justices declined to review a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which concluded last August that agents had violated the Constitution by the methods it used in the May 2006 search.

The appeals court did not find that the raid itself was unconstitutional; rather, it found that the F.B.I. violated constitutional separation of powers by allowing agents to look freely through Congressional files for incriminating evidence. The ruling last August told the bureau to return legislative documents to Mr. Jefferson. It did not, however, affect other items seized from his office, including computer hard drives. Nor did it affect evidence seized in a separate raid on the Congressman’s Washington-area home, including $90,000 found wrapped in aluminum foil in frozen-food containers in his kitchen freezer.

The 18-hour search of Mr. Jefferson’s office on Capitol Hill marked the first time that the F.B.I. had searched a Congressional office, and it touched off a clash between the Bush administration and lawmakers of both parties. Mr. Jefferson has been indicted on charges of bribery, racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering and obstruction of justice. He has pleaded not guilty. The Justice Department said last August that the circuit court ruling would not affect the prosecution of Mr. Jefferson.

The ruling that the Supreme Court declined to review held that the F.B.I.’s use of a “filter team” to examine the evidence from the Congressman’s office to determine what was clearly legislative, and therefore out of bounds, was not adequate to protect Congress’s constitutional right to operate without interference from the executive branch.

Largely a Pyhrric victory for Jefferson, although a good one for Separation of Powers.

What’s amazing to me is how incredibly slow this case is going. The FBI found bribe money in his refrigerator two years ago. Meanwhile, he’s been re-elected to Congress and continues to serve.

FILED UNDER: Africa, Congress, Law and the Courts, Supreme Court, US Constitution, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    You didn’t really think this was going to be allowed at front and center during an election cycle, now, did you?

    And I can’t help but think that his re-election and the ardent defense being put up down there is part and parcel of what we have been seeing with Obama/Wright/liberation theology, et al.

  2. An Interested Party says:

    And I can’t help but think that his re-election and the ardent defense being put up down there is part and parcel of what we have been seeing with Obama/Wright/liberation theology, et al.

    Yes, of course, because all these black people have all the same problems and are all guilty…tell me, do you also think that all Italians are affiliated with the Mob, too?

  3. Bithead says:

    You obviously don’t know me very well. Nice try with the ‘racist’ tag, though.

    Now that you’ve played that card, tell me how many white folks would not only get to stay in office but get re-elected, after being caught with a half million dollars of bribe money in the freezer, and then tell me this isn’t yet another case of racial identity trumping fact.

  4. An Interested Party says:

    It isn’t so much about Jefferson, who is obviously a dirtbag, but rather, your attempt to lump Obama with Jefferson…

  5. Bithead says:

    Is it, indeed?


    OK…Tell me how many White folks with an equal lack of a record of accomplishment…. particularly those with 20-year ties a screeching racist…. would be a half step away from a presidential nomination.

    It’s those kind of role reversal comparisons which lead me to understand quite clearly that there is in fact a link, and it’s centered of racial identity. I don’t like it,because i think most people… both black and white, above such. But alas, there’s enough who are not, to make my statement, and the linkage I note, true.

  6. carpeicthus says:

    Jeez, it’s kind of hard to reach back to THE MAN WHO IS CURRENTLY PRESIDENT.

    Worst troll ever.

  7. Bithead says:

    Is your argument really to be that Obama’s main advantage is, he’s not Bush?

    If so, the flat out huge economic turn-around in TX, under GWB as Gov., doesn’t count as an accomplishment, I suppose?