WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday that it won’t overrule a decision that FBI agents violated the rights of a Democratic congressman during a search of his office, a decision the Bush administration says will hamper future public corruption investigations.
The justices declined to review a U.S. appeals court ruling that the FBI was wrong to confiscate legislative files from the office of Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana, who faces bribery charges involving $90,000 found in his freezer.
It marked the first time that federal law enforcement agents had ever searched the office of a member of Congress and prompted a clash between Congress and the administration over its constitutionality.
The appeals court ordered the FBI to give Jefferson back all privileged legislative files and copies of files taken from his office during the 18-hour raid in May of 2006.
The appeals court said FBI agents should not have viewed documents in the office without first giving Jefferson the opportunity to say the material involved legislative business.
Jefferson was charged last year with racketeering, soliciting bribes for himself and his family, fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
He was accused of soliciting millions of dollars in bribes from nearly a dozen companies while using his office to broker business deals in Africa. In a search of his home, FBI agents said they found $90,000 in bribe money in his freezer.
Jefferson, a member of Congress since 1991 whose district includes New Orleans, has pleaded not guilty.
His trial has been delayed while he appeals a judge’s ruling that rejected his argument to dismiss the indictment on the grounds it unconstitutionally infringed on his privileges as a lawmaker.
In appealing to the Supreme Court, administration lawyers said the appeals court’s ruling would effectively prevent any searches of congressional offices and threatened to impede searches of lawmakers’ homes, vehicles or briefcases.
Jefferson’s lawyers said the appeals court correctly concluded the Constitution bars compelled disclosure of legislative material to the executive branch during a search. Allowing review of such material would impair legislative activities, they said.
The Supreme Court sided with Jefferson and rejected the administration’s appeal without any comment.
Editing by Philip Barbara