Sheldon Silver Strikes Out at SCOTUS After Pardon Never Materializes

The U.S. Supreme Court turned down the appeal from the former speaker of the New York state Assembly without comment, but two Republican justices dissented.

Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver leaves U.S. District Court in Manhattan on July 20 after he was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison in the corruption case that drove him from power. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Having failed to secure clemency from former President Donald Trump, convicted New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver lost his bid Monday for a Supreme Court reversal.

The 76-year-old Democrat only began his nearly seven-year sentence for corruption over the summer, five years after the charges of which he was eventually convicted forced his resignation from the New York Legislature where he had reigned for over two decades.

Silver was convicted for the first time in late 2015, then retried and convicted again in the wake of Supreme Court precedent that weakened federal anti-bribery statutes. Before finally reporting to prison, however, the disgraced politician had his sentence reduced by six months.

Largely uncontested over the dragged-out litigation were the allegations against Silver, who earned than $3 million in referral fees from the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg while still in office.

A jury found, twice, that Silver abused his office during that time by steering state funds to a Columbia University researcher, Robert Taub, who referred his mesothelioma patients to Weitz & Luxenberg, which had specialized in asbestos-related claims.

Silver was convicted again after the Supreme Court stiffened the threshold for proving corruption with a 2016 ruling that freed former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

Per its custom, the Supreme Court gave no comment in rejecting Silver’s latest appeal Monday. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas did note, however, that they would have granted certiorari to consider whether extortion and bribery are conflated in Hobbs Act cases where the defendant is a public official.

Joined by Thomas, Gorsuch said even Justice Stephen Breyer has questioned the judgment of the 1992 case Evans v. United States, which ruled demands of public officials were not elements of extortion. Breyer did not issue any comment Monday.

Silver’s case was one of dozens that the Supreme Court spurned in its Monday list of orders. Though the court did not take up any new cases for argument, it did summarily reverse a number of lower court orders based on precedent.

Vacating a ruling against Planned Parenthood in one, the court instructed the Fifth Circuit to dismiss the case over Texas abortion restrictions as moot.

In another case out of Texas, the court said a federal judge should hold a hearing on the merits of whether the state discriminates on the basis of religion in barring spiritual advisors to be present when it executes prisoners on death row.

Ruben Gutierrez, whose execution the Supreme Court stayed in June, was convicted in 1998 of killing an 85-year-old woman with a screwdriver over $600,000. 

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice banned prison clergy from staying alongside those condemned to death in 2019. At the time, Patrick Murphy had requested a Buddhist priest to accompany him into the chamber, but the prison had employed only Muslim or Christian ministers to perform last rites. 

Shawn Nolan, an attorney representing Gutierrez with the Federal Community Defender’s office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said it was paramount to allow spiritual advisors to be present during an inmate’s execution. 

“A condemned prisoner’s access to the comfort and guidance of a spiritual advisor at the time of his death is not a matter of convenience, it is a fundamental right,” Nolan said in a statement.

The Supreme Court issued one opinion Monday, dismissing a dispute over arbitration agreements as improvidently granted.

Henry Schein Inc. and Archer and White Sales Inc. were cross-petitioners in the case, fighting over whether courts can only order arbitration when there are no disputes over the matter in the first place. 

“When the parties have no agreement between them at all, it is hard to imagine any ‘clear and unmistakable’ agreement to arbitrate — much less one addressing the obscure topic of arbitrating arbitrability,” Archer and White Sales had said in its petition. 

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