Conservative commentator George Will published a nationally syndicated column Feb. 12 urging the Supreme Court to reconsider the corruption convictions of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. The column by Will, at left below, represents a breakthrough in the national media’s treatment of Siegelman’s 2006 convictions.
Siegelman, at right, was Alabama’s governor from 1999 to 2003 and the state’s most prominent Democrat until the eve of his convictions in a second federal trial. He, his supporters and our Justice Integrity Project have ascribed his investigation by Republicans beginning in 1999 largely to a politically motivated frame-up. Alabama Republicans controlling their state's Attorney General’s office started it and worked closely after 2001 with the Bush Justice Department in a process now being carried forward by co-opted successors in the Obama administration.
Sidestepping the most explosive claims in that debate, Will’s column focuses more generally on the vast potential for injustice when federal prosecutors can selectively determine which political contributions are bribes, and ignore the vast number of similar situations. Will warns against excessive powers for prosecutors when, as in the Siegelman conviction, scant evidence exists of an “explicit” deal. In a column appearing in the Feb. 12 print edition of the Washington Post and nationally, Will wrote:
All elected officials, and those who help finance elections in the expectation that certain promises will be kept — and everyone who cares about the rule of law — should hope the Supreme Court agrees to hear Don Siegelman’s appeal of his conviction. Until the court clarifies what constitutes quid pro quo political corruption, Americans engage in politics at their peril because prosecutors have dangerous discretion to criminalize politics.