In the two decades since then, the law has become a popular weapon for federal prosecutors. It allows them to bring charges in cases involving questionable schemes, even if they could not prove a bribe or kickback.
All the while, however, judges and legal experts have been divided on what the law means. Did it, for example, cover a state legislator who was retiring and had met with a private firm seeking a future job?
Prosecutors in Alaska had charged Bruce Weyhrauch, a former legislator, with "honest services" fraud in such a case because he voted on a bill that benefited the company. He did not a take a job with the private firm, however. The Supreme Court ruled for him Thursday in Weyhrauch v. United States and sent his case back to be reconsidered.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices John Paul Stevens, Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Sonia Sotomayor joined with Ginsburg. Justices Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas would have gone further and thrown out the "honest services" fraud law entirely. They said the law was hopelessly vague and that Congress, not the court, should fix it.
Separately, the justices rejected Skilling's claim that he was denied a fair trial because of prejudice in the community against him and Enron. Sotomayor, Stevens and Breyer dissented on that point.
In Black v. the United States, the former newspaper executive was accused of taking millions of dollars in secret payments. But Ginsburg and the court said prosecutors erred by telling the jury that Black could be convicted for depriving his company of his "honest services."
"We express no opinion on the question of whether the error was ultimately harmless," she said in sending the case back to Chicago.
Jeff Coen contributed to this report from Chicago.