By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
A Minnesota appeals court yesterday rejected Sen. Larry E. Craig's latest effort to withdraw his guilty plea, 18 months after the Idaho Republican was arrested in a Minneapolis airport bathroom during an undercover sex sting.
Since pleading guilty in August 2007 to disorderly-conduct charges after allegedly trying to solicit sex from an undercover police officer in June of that year, Craig has tried to pull back that plea, arguing that his behavior was not illegal and that the police pressured him into the plea. The Hennepin County District Court denied Craig's petition in October 2007, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed that decision yesterday.
In his appeal, Craig argued that the district court fundamentally erred in its decision, that the state's disorderly-conduct statute was unconstitutionally broad and that his behavior in the airport bathroom stall should be considered legally protected speech. The court rejected those arguments.
"Appellant has not shown that the district court abused its discretion in denying his petition to withdraw his guilty plea, and neither he nor amici have shown that the disorderly conduct statute is unconstitutionally overbroad," wrote Edward Toussaint Jr., the appeals court's chief judge.
Toussaint added that even if Craig's actions in the stall were considered speech, they can be restricted because they invaded the "privacy interest" of a "captive audience" -- in this case, the undercover officer in the neighboring stall at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
In a statement released by his office, Craig, 63, said he was "extremely disappointed" by the ruling.
"I disagree with their conclusion and remain steadfast in my belief that nothing criminal or improper occurred at the Minneapolis airport," he said. "I maintain my innocence, and currently my attorneys and I are reviewing the decision and looking into the possibility of appealing" to the Minnesota Supreme Court, he added. The American Civil Liberties Union had filed a brief in support of Craig's appeal.
After initially vowing to stay in office, Craig bowed to pressure from his colleagues and pledged to resign from the Senate. Then he decided to stay in the chamber but not run for reelection this year. Jim Risch (R) won the contest to succeed Craig last month.
In February, the Senate ethics committee admonished Craig for his behavior, calling it "improper conduct which has reflected discreditably on the Senate."