What 'Varsity Blues' and Supreme Court fraud reversals tell us about the system

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Andrew Cuomo

It was a banner week for overturning fraud convictions. On Wednesday, two wealthy parents in the “Varsity Blues” college admissions probe got theirs tossed by a federal appeals court, and on Thursday, the Supreme Court in two cases sided with a business executive and a former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The reversals underscore the ongoing trend of the Supreme Court — unanimously, to be clear — taking a skeptical view of the government’s far-reaching prosecutions in white-collar fraud and public corruption cases. (The legal issues in these cases were more complex than the charges reflected in, for example, the Rep. George Santos indictment this week, where a reading of the New York Republican’s alleged schemes suggest he might as well have been wearing a sign that said: “Charge me with crimes.” He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which include wire fraud and money laundering.)

But the college admissions and corruption case reversals also underscore that the courts work to benefit the wealthy and well-connected. It’s difficult to disagree with or look away from that fact. And it doesn’t necessarily reflect well on the justices when one of the relatively few matters on which they consistently find common ground are in rulings favoring people in their professional class — those who might be seen as, or might even be, their peers. Both corruption and the appearance of corruption on the nation’s high court are top of mind for the American people these days.

With all of that said, it could be tempting to conclude that these “white-collar” defendants are legally undeserving, while those who might be called “blue-collar” defendants — say, death row prisoners — face a barrage of Kafkaesque procedural hurdles under the thumb of a stingy GOP supermajority.

But another option is to embrace the government skepticism that the courts are applying in favor of these better-heeled defendants and to press for that same judicial energy for all.   

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