A federal appeals court on Tuesday vacated five convictions against former Illinois Gov. and Rep. Rod Blagojevich, who received a 14-year prison sentence in 2011 for his scheme to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by now-President Barack Obama.
The judges ruled the convictions on five counts related to trying to score a seat in Obama's Cabinet could not stand, although they upheld 13 other corruption convictions. Trading one official act for another is a perfectly common, and legal "political logroll," according to the court. The 23-page ruling imagines a scenario in which one member of Congress agrees to vote with another for milk-price supports, in exchange for a vote in support of tighter controls on air pollution. Or a president appointing a senator's pick for ambassador in exchange for that senator's promise to confirm his appointment to the National Labor Relations Board.
"Governance would hardly be possible without these accommodations, which allow each public official to achieve more of his principal objective while surrendering something about which he cares less, but the other politician cares more strongly," stated Judge Frank H. Easterbrook, writing on behalf of the three-judge panel.
Because the court affirmed the convictions on 13 remaining counts and concluded that the advisory sentencing range for the Democrat lies above 14 years, Blagojevich, 58, is not entitled to be released from a Colorado prison pending further proceedings. If prosecutors decide not to further appeal on the vacated charges, Blagojevich could be re-sentenced.
The ruling upheld allegations he sought to sell the seat, which went to Democrat Roland Burris after Blagojevich's arrest. (Burris served less than two years before Republican Mark S. Kirk won the seat to succeed him.)
The Justice Department's prosecution of Blagojevich was part of a larger public corruption probe known as Operation Board Games, which was launched in 2003 to investigate pay-to-play schemes.