As a practical matter, Conrad Black is a day closer to getting out of prison regardless of what happened Monday in the Supreme Court. But the former owner of the Sun-Times is surely hoping he's now several days — years even — closer to freedom.
Black's challenging his six-and-a-half-year sentence on grounds that the federal honest services law employed to convict him on corruption charges in 2007 is unconstitutionally vague. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia clearly agrees, and Scalia might not be alone on the court. The law was at issue Monday in another case before the Court — the appeal of former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling — and the New York Times reports that "several judges suggested" it's seriously flawed.
The Black and Skilling appeals are two of three cases the Court decided to hear this term in order to give the 21-year-old law forbidding "a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services" a thorough airing. Skilling's appeal, the last of the three to be argued, is generally considered stronger than Black's, and some justices also showed sympathy Monday for Skilling's second argument: Skilling contends the jury was too hastily chosen for his 2006 trial, which should never have been held in Enron's home town, Houston, under any circumstances because a fair trial was impossible there.
Here's a PDF of the transcript of Monday's hearing.
And here's a link to my most recent column on the honest services law, which I followed with a comment taking a close look at Black's appeal.