SABRI v. UNITED STATES

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
03-44
Petitioner 
Basim Omar Sabri
Respondent 
United States
Advocates
(argued the cause for Petitioner)
(argued the cause for Respondent)
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Facts of the Case 

Basim Omar Sabri, a Minneapolis landlord and developer, tried to bribe a Minneapolis City Council member who sat on the board of an organization that dispersed funding for economic revitalization of city neighborhoods. Some of the funds dispersed by the organization were federal funds.

Sabri was charged in federal court with bribery. He moved to dismiss the charges, claiming that the section of United States Code that he was charged under was unconstitutional. He claimed that Congress could only regulate the dispersal of federal funds; because the statute did not require the prosecutors to show that the bribery had affected any federal funds, only that it had affected an organization that received federal funds, he argued that it was outside of Congress's power to legislate. The district court sided with Sabri and dismissed the charges.

On appeal, an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals panel reversed. It found that, because federal funds were often mixed with other funds by organizations that distributed them, it would be difficult for prosecutors to prove that the funds affected by an attempted bribe were federal funds. As a result, the government would have to regulate all bribes to organizations that dispersed federal funds in order to meaningfully protect federal funds. Because Congress had authority under the necessary and proper clause and the spending clause (both found in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution) to ensure that government funds were not misspent, the bribery statute was therefore constitutional.

Question 

May Congress make it a federal crime to bribe officials of non-federal organizations that distribute some federal funds without requiring prosecutors to prove that the bribe actually affected federal funds?

Conclusion 
Decision: 9 votes for United States, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: 18 U.S.C. 666

Yes. In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice David Souter, the Court held that Article I of the Constitution allows Congress to prohibit bribery of organizations that distribute federal funds. The Justices found that the Spending Clause authorizes Congress to spend money for the general welfare, and that the Necessary and Proper Clause authorizes it to take any reasonable steps to prevent such money from being misspent. These reasonable steps include prohibiting bribery. The Court rejected Sabri's argument that the law was unconstitutional because it applied to all bribes, not just those made in connection with actual federal funds. The Court held that to require proof of a connection between the bribes and federal funds would unreasonable and impractical; it was within Congress's power to prohibit all bribes to all federally-funded organizations. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a separate opinion concurring in the judgment, in which he questioned whether the Court had been correct to interpret the Necessary and Proper Clause so expansively.

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SABRI v. UNITED STATES. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 27 July 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2003/2003_03_44>.
SABRI v. UNITED STATES, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2003/2003_03_44 (last visited July 27, 2014).
"SABRI v. UNITED STATES," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed July 27, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2003/2003_03_44.