Fox News general assignment reporter Megyn Kendall falsely stated that the U.S. Supreme Court's recent reversal of a lower court's conviction of accounting firm Arthur Andersen for obstruction of justice in the Enron case was a “long-awaited vindication of Andersen's position it did nothing illegal.” In fact, the Supreme Court's opinion made no determination of the firm's guilt or innocence.
In Arthur Andersen's conviction by a federal district court in Houston, the Supreme Court ruled on May 31 that the judge's instructions to the jury set too low a bar for establishing guilt. The court held that Judge Melinda Harmon's instructions were flawed because they allowed the jurors to convict Andersen without concluding that the firm's destruction of Enron-related documents took place as a result of a “dishonest” motive. Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote in the unanimous opinion: “The jury instructions failed to convey the requisite consciousness of wrongdoing. Indeed, it is striking how little culpability the instructions required.” But the ruling did not address the substantive question of whether such “consciousness of wrongdoing” existed, only that the jury should have been instructed that the defendant could be found guilty only if such consciousness did in fact exist.
As The New York Times reported on June 1, “In its ruling, legal experts said, the Supreme Court did not ultimately settle the question of whether Andersen acted with criminal intent when it allowed many of Enron's accounting papers to be destroyed.” Further analysis by the Times noted: “Because the decision pertains solely to the jury instruction, the reversal yesterday says nothing about the quality of evidence marshaled by the Justice Department's Enron Task Force, which presented a range of proof about potential motive and intent.”
USA Today also reported that the Supreme Court did not rule that there was “nothing wrong with Andersen's conduct” :
From the questions several high court justices asked that day, it seemed as though the Supreme Court might rule that there was nothing wrong with Andersen's conduct at all. Tuesday's ruling drew no such sweeping conclusions. “While it's a big victory for Andersen, there could have been greater success if the case was remanded to the district court saying none of the acts were criminal,” says Jamie Wareham, an attorney with Paul Hastings.
From the May 31 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
KENDALL: The result [of the reversal] to Andersen, a savings of about half a million dollars in fines, and long-awaited vindication of Andersen's position it did nothing illegal.