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.