High Court Upholds Nevada Ethics Law

Jun 14, 2011
Originally published on June 14, 2011 6:32 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Now to regulations about ethics. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling yesterday with broad implications for ethics laws, laws intended to regulate behavior of politicians around the country. The high court unanimously upheld a Nevada law barring state officials from voting on matters in which they have a conflict of interest. That Supreme Court ruling reversed a Nevada state court decision. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.

NINA TOTENBERG: The controversy was local, but the issues were national. In 2006, the Nevada Ethics Commission ruled that Sparks, Nevada city councilman Michael Carrigan violated the state ethics code by voting to approve a casino development at a time when his campaign manager and close friend was being paid $10,000 a month by the developer. Carrigan denied wrongdoing, noting that he had disclosed the relationship.

MONTAGNE: I did not do anything unethical. If I would have done something unethical, I would have resigned.

TOTENBERG: But even Rick Hasen, a lawyer for councilman Carrigan, and a professor at the University of California Irvine, saw a contrary message in the Supreme Court's decision.

MONTAGNE: The court has signaled that broad first amendment challenges to conflict of interest rules are going to be off the table. It gives some breathing room for state and local government to impose conflict of interest rules without worrying about a lawsuit.

TOTENBERG: James Fobb, who has led the challenge to campaign finance laws, had a different take.

MONTAGNE: This decision turned out to be a very narrow one. What the court refused to consider are the real First Amendment issues in the case.

TOTENBERG: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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