An official act in the statutes at issue is a decision or action on a question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy.... That question or matter must involve a formal exercise of governmental power and must also be something specific and focused -- that is, pending or may by law be brought before a public official. To qualify as an official act, the public official must make a decision or take an action on that question or matter, or agree to do so.... Given the court's interpretation of official act, the district court's jury instructions were erroneous, and the jury may have convicted Governor McDonnell for conduct that is not unlawful. Because the errors in the jury instructions are not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, the Court vacates Governor McDonnell's convictions.Here's the opinion PDF.
ADDED: The facts, as summarized by the Chief's opinion:
In 2014, the Federal Government indicted former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife, Maureen McDonnell, on bribery charges. The charges related to the acceptance by the McDonnells of $175,000 in loans, gifts, and other benefits from Virginia businessman Jonnie Williams, while Governor McDonnell was in office. Williams was the chief executive officer of Star Scientific, a Virginia-based company that had developed a nutritional supplement made from anatabine, a compound found in tobacco. Star Scientific hoped that Virginia’s public universities would perform research studies on anatabine, and Williams wanted Governor McDonnell’s assistance in obtaining those studies.The issue was what counted as an "official act" within the statutory law, and the Court said the government's "expansive interpretation" might have violated the Constitution:
In the Government’s view, nearly anything a public official accepts—from a campaign contribution to lunch—counts as a quid; and nearly anything a public official does—from arranging a meeting to inviting a guest to an event— counts as a quo. See Brief for United States 14, 27; Tr. of Oral Arg. 34–35, 44–46.AND: SCOTUSblog observes that the opinion does not cite the campaign finance cases such as Citizens United, which were extensively discussed in the briefs. I'll just speculate that's because the Court got it together for a unanimous opinion. I like it, the one-opinion unanimity.
But conscientious public officials arrange meetings for constituents, contact other officials on their behalf, and include them in events all the time. The basic compact underlying representative government assumes that public officials will hear from their constituents and act appropriately on their concerns—whether it is the union official worried about a plant closing or the homeowners who wonder why it took five days to restore power to their neighborhood after a storm. The Government’s position could cast a pall of potential prosecution over these relationships if the union had given a campaign contribution in the past or the homeowners invited the official to join them on their annual outing to the ballgame. Officials might wonder whether they could respond to even the most commonplace requests for assistance, and citizens with legitimate concerns might shrink from participating in democratic discourse.