The Supreme Court will hear former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's appeal of his public corruption convictions in April and have a decision in June.
The justices said Friday they will review lower court rulings that upheld the convictions based on what McDonnell says is an overly broad definition of bribery.
A jury in September 2014 convicted McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, of doing favors for wealthy vitamin executive Jonnie Williams in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts and loans. Williams was seeking state university research on his company's signature anti-inflammatory product.
The Obama administration urged the court to reject the appeal, saying the jury had ample evidence of bribery.
But Republicans and Democrats who once worked in the Justice Department and White House joined McDonnell in contending that the overly broad definition of bribery on which he was convicted would make a crime of routine actions by elected officials on behalf of their constituents.
McDonnell's defense says he only did routine things for Williams that politicians do, like introducing him to people, but he never actually urged officials to help Williams and Williams didn't get anything. The Justice Department argues all it takes to have corruption is an agreement between an elected official and someone with money and favors, NBC News Chief Justice Correspondent Pete Williams reported.
“I am very grateful to the U.S. Supreme Court for its decision today to hear my case," McDonnell said in a statement. "I am innocent of these crimes and ask the court to reverse these convictions. I maintain my profound confidence in God's grace to sustain me and my family, and thank my friends and supporters across the country for their faithfulness over these past three years.”
The justices have taken on several cases in recent years that claimed prosecutors were too aggressive in their pursuit of white-collar crimes. In 2010, the court narrowed the use of an anti-fraud law that was central in convicting politicians and corporate executives in many of the nation's most prominent corruption cases.
Last year, the justices also declined to hear the government's appeal of a lower court ruling that threw out insider trading convictions.
The action Friday was not a surprise because the justices voted in August to allow McDonnell to postpone the start of his two-year prison term while his appeal was being considered. Such votes typically signal the court will hear the full appeal.
The court will not take up a second issue raised by McDonnell, whether the trial judge did enough to ensure that jurors could be impartial in spite of the heavy news coverage of the McDonnells' cases in Virginia news outlets.
Maureen McDonnell was sentenced to a year and a day in prison. Her appeal has been put on hold until the Supreme Court decides her husband's case.
The heart of the former governor's appeal is that he never took official action to benefit Williams or the Star Scientific company of which he ran. Neither Williams nor the company received any state money and McDonnell never pressured anyone to help Williams or promised Williams that he would, McDonnell argues in his appeal.
But Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. said McDonnell violated federal anti-corruption law when he accepted "personal benefits in exchange for his agreement to influence government matters."
The case is McDonnell v. U.S., 15-474.