The federal indictment hanging over the head of former congressman Aaron Schock repeatedly references the official rules of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Trouble is, some of them are pretty vague. Or so says Schock. And his attorneys insist the judicial branch has no business deciding what they really mean. To do so would be a violation of the separation of powers.
That’s the argument the former rising star and his legal team took to the 27th floor of Chicago’s federal courthouse Wednesday. There, they called on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a lower court judge and toss Schock’s indictment.
“An ambiguous rule cannot be used to support the prosecution of a member of Congress,” Benjamin Hatch, one of Schock’s lawyers, told a three-judge panel.
Dressed in a blue suit and sitting in the gallery of the appellate courtroom, Schock pursed his lips and sat at times with his hands folded as the panel confronted his lawyer skeptically.
Seventh Circuit Chief Judge Diane Wood and Judge Frank Easterbrook tested Hatch’s argument, pushing him to say whether members of Congress could write their own rules about paying taxes — and bypass the law itself.
Hatch said clear violations of federal law are a different matter. Rather, he argued it would be an overreach for the courts to delve into the gray areas. He based much of his argument on a precedent set during the prosecution of former Illinois Congressman Dan Rostenkowski.
“It would be the court fashioning a rule of Congress,” Hatch said.
Wood seemed to dwell on the more glaring examples of Schock’s alleged malfeasance, like seeking mileage reimbursements for more miles than his vehicle was actually driven.
Department of Justice lawyer William Glaser countered that the House rules would be introduced at Schock’s trial merely as evidence. That being the case, the more ambiguous congressional rules wouldn’t even be that helpful to prosecutors, he said.
The appellate panel, which also included Judge Joel Flaum, did not decide the matter Wednesday. It’s unclear when they will hand down a ruling.
Schock left the Dirksen Federal Courthouse after the arguments ended without speaking to reporters.
A federal indictment handed down in November 2016 alleges Schock broke various laws by using campaign and government funds for cars, mileage reimbursements, interior decorating, a charter plane flight to a Bears game and sports tickets he resold for profit.
The former Peoria congressman is also accused of filing false income tax returns and covering up his spending trail and alleged fraud schemes with fake invoices and false statements.
Schock was the youngest member of the House when he arrived in 2009. He resigned under a cloud of suspicion on March 31, 2015.
Contributing: Lynn Sweet