Hearing arguments January 7, the U.S. Supreme Court concentrated most of its questioning in the United States vs. Laniersexual assault case on the “under the cover of law” aspect of the dispute. The question before the court is whether federal prosecutors can use a law which states that those working “under the cover of law” cannot harm someone else’s bodily integrity to try sexual assault cases, i.e. does “bodily harm” include sexual assault. The law is most often used in civil rights trials to protect prisoners from abusive prison guards. Most recently, it was used to try police who abused Rodney King in Los Angeles. The Court spent most of its time, however, questioning the Justice Department as to whether or not Judge Lanier was acting in his official capacity as a judge when he assaulted the women, a point necessary to meet the law’s “under the cover of law” requirement.
Judge Lanier had been convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison under the federal law after eight women accused him of assaulting them, in his chambers. Some women worked for him, and others had cases pending before him in his court at the time they were assaulted. One also alleged oral rape. Lanier was tried in federal court because his close connections to state prosecutors (of which his brother was one) and his family’s strong political connections prevented an unbiased trial on the state level. An appeals court overturned his conviction on the grounds that sexual assault was not covered by the federal law’s “bodily integrity” requirement. The Supreme Court is expected to hand down a ruling by this summer.