RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Lewis Scooter Libby, the former White House aide, has suffered a major blow from the U.S. Supreme Court. It wasn't a direct hit, but a hard one nonetheless. Lewis Libby is appealing his conviction and 30 month sentence for perjury and obstruction of justice. Yesterday the High Court, ruling in a case nearly identical to Libby's, upheld a sentence that is three months longer than his.

NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.

NINA TOTENBERG: Libby's sentence has been roundly denounced by conservatives and a few liberals as well. Conservative columnist William Kristol called it unfair and vindictive. GOP presidential contender Rudolph Giuliani, a former prosecutor who once asked that perjury have mandatory prison terms, called the sentence excessive punishment. And former Senator Fred Thompson, also seeking the GOP nod, lambasted the judge and prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

Mr. FRED THOMPSON (Former Senator; Republican Tennessee): Proving once again that Fitzgerald can get away with practically anything in Washington. The judge apparently accepted Fitzgerald's argument contrary to all notions of basic fairness.

TOTENBERG: Liberal Christopher Hitchens took aim at the sentencing judge, asking this question: In how many cases involving poor defendants is an issue of constitutional law involved? Does the judge not know that Libby has already been almost ruined financially? Well, as it happens, yesterday the Supreme Court issued a major sentencing decision involving a North Carolina man named Victor Rita who found himself in almost exactly the same position as Scooter Libby.

Rita, who had served 25 years in the military, was convicted of the same crimes that Libby was - perjury, false statements, and obstruction of justice. As in the Libby case, his lawyers argued that he'd led a life of public service and that he as already ruined, and unlike Libby, that he was in poor health.

The trial judge sentenced Rita using the federal sentencing guidelines. And as in the Libby case, following the guidelines, the judge added time to the sentence for the crime that Rita was not charged with because the perjury testimony and obstruction was a cover-up of that crime.

Rita was sentenced to 33 months in prison, three months more than Libby. And yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the sentence by an 8-1 vote because it was within the range set by the federal sentencing guidelines. Sentencing experts said the Supreme Court's ruling once and for all cuts the legs out from Libby's claim that his sentence is unreasonable and that his only hope now is a thin one, that there was error in his trial.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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