Study Group with Josh Gerstein: Has the Supreme Court hamstrung prosecutors in the fight against corruption in politics and government?


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The Watergate scandal spurred waves of legislation, policies and prosecutions aimed at reining in corruption and encouraging ethical practices in government. That impetus began to fade in the 1980s and slipped further in recent decades, as the Supreme Court and other courts have expressed skepticism about some theories embraced by prosecutors.

Court decisions cutting back the scope of anti-corruption laws, including rulings overturning convictions of Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.) and a close aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) have limited prosecutors’ options to combat alleged corruption. Prosecutors have also faced demoralizing setbacks in cases against high-profile figures like Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.)

Meanwhile, other court rulings have produced an explosion of money in politics and fueled the rise of SuperPACs that now dwarf parties and even the campaigns they support. We’ll discuss these trends and whether we’re now living through an “anything goes” era in U.S. politics.

GUEST: Special Counsel Hampton Dellinger will join Josh Gerstein in-person for the April 4 session.

Dellinger was confirmed and sworn in last month as the head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which enforces the Hatch Act’s limits on political activity by federal employees and advocates for whistleblowers in the federal government.

From 2021 to 2023, Dellinger held the post of Assistant Attorney General for Legal Policy in the U.S. Department of Justice, overseeing vetting of judicial nominees and conducting long-range planning for the department.

Dellinger previously served as legal counsel to Gov. Mike Easley (D-N.C.) and ran for lieutenant governor of North Carolina in 2008. He has also worked as a deputy attorney general in the Tarheel State investigating Medicaid fraud and political corruption, as an attorney in private practice, and as a commentator on legal issues for NBC News and other media outlets.

Dellinger attended the University of Michigan as an undergraduate and received his law degree from Yale Law School.

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OFF-THE-RECORD: In keeping with our long tradition at the IOP to ensure honest and candid discussions of politics, all IOP study groups are off-the-record.


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