"This ruling may have a profound impact on the government's ability to thoroughly investigate other cases of congressional corruption," Melanie Sloan, executive director of the left-leaning, anti-corruption group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said.
While the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals maintains the search of a congressional office is constitutional, it ruled that in the case of Jefferson "the compelled disclosure of privileged material to the Executive during execution of the search warrant...violated the Speech or Debate Clause [of the Constitution] and that the Congressman is entitled to the return of documents that the court determines to be privileged under the Clause."
The court did not order the return of non-privileged documents.
FBI agents raided the congressional office of Rep. Jefferson in May of 2006 after lawyers for the House of Representatives refused to turn over copies of documents and computer files being sought in the bribery investigation of Jefferson.
At the time, Jefferson's lawyer called the FBI's raid "outrageous."
Jefferson has since been indicted on 16 charges, including racketeering, solicitation of bribes, money laundering and obstruction of justice. The Justice Department's case against Jefferson does not rely on any of the documents and files seized during the Capitol Hill raid.
Jefferson pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial in January. If convicted on all charges, he could face 235 years in prison.
The Department of Justice said today they are "pleased" that the search of a congressional office was not deemed unconstitutional but are "disappointed" congressmen need to be given "advance notice" of those searches.
"We are disappointed with the ruling that requires that a member of Congress be provided advance notice and the right to review materials before the execution of a search warrant," the FBI said in a statement.
CREW also took issue with congressmen being given advance notice.
"Sen. Ted Stevens now has every incentive to store in his congressional office any document concerning the renovations of his house, secure in the knowledge that it will be beyond the reach of federal investigators," Sloan said, referring to the Alaskan senator whose home was raided by federal investigators earlier this week, as reported by the Blotter.
Sen. Stevens declined to comment on the FBI raid on his house, other than to urge his constituents in a statement issued earlier this week "not to form conclusions based upon incomplete and sometimes incorrect reports in the media."