CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire/AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it will not hear an appeal by imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich of his corruption convictions, the second time in two years it has declined to take up his case.
And in doing so, it might have finally ended the long, futile legal fight waged by Blagojevich ever since his early-morning arrest in December 2008.
The high court’s decision seems to leave Blagojevich with little to do now but languish in a Colorado prison, hoping for clemency from President Donald Trump as his name is thrown around as a talking point in this year’s campaign for his old job.
Gov. Bruce Rauner even took advantage of the Supreme Court review of Blagojevich’s petition Friday by offering a Snapchat filter outside the courthouse in Washington, D.C. It let people virtually wear Blagojevich’s famous black coif, which has gone white in prison.
Former first lady Patti Blagojevich called that move “disgusting.”
Monday, she issued a statement that seemed to indicate they were giving up on any other possible appeals.
“Rod, Amy, Annie and I could not be more disappointed in the decision today by the U.S. Supreme Court. From the beginning we’ve had faith in the system and have felt the court would bring Rod back to us. Now, with the judiciary no longer an option, we’ll have to put our faith elsewhere and find another way,” Ms. Blagojevich said in the statement.
“Throughout this grueling saga we’ve maintained hope that Rod will come back home where he belongs. Although we are disheartened by this decision, we are thankful for the outpouring of support we’ve received along the way. We will continue to push forward and work towards the day when our family can be whole again.”
The ex-governor is not due out of prison until May 2024. The 61-year-old Democrat has already served six years of a 14-year sentence. And his name is synonymous with Illinois corruption.
A little less than three years ago, there might have been a glimmer of hope for Blagojevich in an appellate ruling that overturned five of his 18 criminal convictions. It also ordered him re-sentenced, and many experts thought Blagojevich would get a break when he returned by video link to U.S. District Judge James Zagel’s courtroom.
However, federal prosecutors asked the judge to restore Blagojevich’s original sentence, arguing he remained convicted “of the same three charged shakedowns of which he stood convicted at the original sentencing.”
Those scams included an attempt to sell then-President-elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat, to shake down the CEO of Children’s Memorial Hospital for $25,000 in campaign contributions, and to hold up a bill to benefit the racetrack industry for $100,000 in campaign contributions. A jury also convicted him of lying to the FBI.
In August 2016, over the sobs of Blagojevich’s daughters, Zagel did as the feds asked. An appellate court quickly affirmed Zagel’s decision, forcing Blagojevich to go to the high court.
Things have looked increasingly grim for Blagojevich, as a result. He had tried to get the Supreme Court’s attention in November 2015, during the lead up to his re-sentencing, only to be turned away in March 2016. There was little reason now to think his odds would improve.
His attorney, Leonard Goodman, presented the Supreme Court this time with two questions: Whether prosecutors in a case like Blagojevich’s must prove a public official made an “explicit promise or undertaking” in exchange for a campaign contribution, and whether more consideration should have been given to sentences handed down in similar cases.
Goodman is a member of the investor group that recently purchased the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Reader.
“Our petition lays out a compelling case that the Supreme Court needs to settle the confusion among federal courts about the dividing line between campaign fundraising, something all elected officials are required to do (unless they are billionaires) and the federal crimes of extortion and bribery,” Goodman said last year.
The attorney also complained that Blagojevich’s sentence “was more than twice as long as that given any other official convicted of corruption.”