Sabri v. United States

PETITIONER: Basim Omar Sabri
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Elk Grove Unified School District

DOCKET NO.: 03-44
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 541 US 600 (2004)
GRANTED: Oct 14, 2003
ARGUED: Mar 03, 2004
DECIDED: May 17, 2004

ADVOCATES:
Andrew S. Birrell - argued the cause for petitioner
Andrew Stuart Birrell - argued the cause for Petitioner
Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben - argued the cause for the United States
Michael R. Dreeben - argued the cause for Respondent

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?

Media for Sabri v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 03, 2004 in Sabri v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 17, 2004 in Sabri v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 03-44, Sabri against the United States will be announced by Justice Souter.

David H. Souter:

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit.

The petitioner Sabri, a real estate developer, proposed to build a hotel and retail structures in Minneapolis.

In an effort to forward his plans, he offered three bribes to a City Councilmen according to the grand jury indictment that gave rise to this case.

Sabri was charged with violating 18 U.S. Code 666, which makes it a federal crime to offer a bribe of $5000 or more to an agent of any government receiving federal benefits of at least $10,000 a year.

In 2001 when the bribes were allegedly offered, the City Council of Minneapolis got about $29 million of federal funds.

Sabri moved to dismiss the indictment on the ground that the statute is unconstitutional on its face for failure to require proof of a connection between the federal funds and the bribe as an element of liability.

The District Court agreed with Sabri, but a divided panel of the Eighth Circuit reversed holding that there was nothing fatal in the absence of an express requirement to prove some connection between a given bribe and federally pedigreed dollars.

The Circuit held that the statute was constitutional under the Necessary and Proper Clause in serving the objects of the congressional spending power.

We granted certiorari to resolve a split among the Courts of Appeals over the need to require connections between the bribe and the federal funds.

In an opinion filed today with the Clerk of the Court, we affirm.

Sabri raises what he calls a facial challenge to the statute.

It is fatal, as he sees it, that the statute does not make the connection between the bribe and the Federal funds in the element of the crime to be charged in the indictment and demonstrated proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

But we do not presume the unconstitutionality of Federal criminal statute simply from the absence of an explicit jurisdictional hook.

There is no occasion even to consider the need for such a requirement, where there is no reason to suspect that enforcement of a criminal statute would extend beyond the legitimate interest, cognizable under Article I of the Constitution.

Congress’ authority under the Spending Clause to appropriate federal moneys to promote the general welfare and it has corresponding authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause to see that the taxpayer dollars appropriated under that power are in fact, spent on the general welfare, rather than frittered away in graft.

While it is true just as Sabri says that not every bribe or kickback offered or paid to agents of state and local governments will be traceably skimmed from federal bequests, this possibility does not portend enforcement beyond the scope of federal interest.

Money is fungible, bribed officials are untrustworthy stewards of federal funds, and corrupt contractors do not deliver dollar-for-dollar value.

In a postscript we observed that Sabri’s challenge amounts to an overbreadth claim.

Our general reluctance to entertain facial challenges is only heightened with respect to this species of suit.

Justice Kennedy has filed an opinion concurring in part in which Justice Scalia has joined; Justice Thomas has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.