WASHINGTON (CN) – In another blow to a former congressman facing corruption charges, the Supreme Court refused Tuesday to tackle a thorny question of separation of powers.
“Although this question does not arise frequently — presumably because criminal charges against members of Congress are rare — the sensitive separation-of-powers questions that such prosecutions raise ought to be handled uniformly,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote this morning, in a brief statement respecting the denial of certiorari.
Elected to represent the 18th Congressional District of Illinois in 2009, former U.S. Representative Aaron Schock was indicted in 2016 on allegations of tax fraud and charges that he filed false claims for reimbursement for his travel and office furnishings.
Schock had been the youngest member of Congress when he first took his seat at age 27 and was seen as a rising star of the Republican Party until his abrupt 2015 resignation, after the Washington Post reported that he redecorated his congressional offices in the style of the luxurious aristocratic home portrayed in the BBC drama “Downton Abbey.”
While new members of Congress are entitled to repaint their offices for free, the colors available are limited, usually to beige, eggshell, light blue or light yellow.
Looking to stand out, Schock tapped a decorator who painted his rooms deep red with white trim. The redecorated offices featured a gold-colored wall sconce with black candles, a display of pheasant feathers, a $5,000 chandelier and a bull’s eye mirror in federalist style topped with an eagle.
Schock also allegedly requested reimbursement for 170,000 miles driving on his personal Chevy Tahoe between 2010 and 2014, despite the car only having 80,000 miles on it when he transferred it back to the dealer in mid-2014. Similarly, the odometer of his previous vehicle showed that he had driven fewer miles on it than the total miles for which he sought reimbursement from the government.
In fighting his indictment, however, Schock has claimed that the charges against him impermissibly require the court to interpret House rules.
Many of House rules regarding furniture reimbursements are ambiguous: in one instance the handbook expressly lists rugs as both nonreimbursable furniture and a reimbursable decoration.
He sought Supreme Court intervention after the Seven Circuit unanimously rejected his pretrial appeal last year.
Sotomayor noted that the District Court where Schock has been indicted “dismissed the only count of the indictment that did, in its view, necessarily turn on an interpretation of the House Rules.”
“As a result, the District Court’s order may have been insufficiently ‘conclusive’ to support collateral-order appellate jurisdiction, whether or not such jurisdiction would otherwise have been proper,” the opinion states. “The Court of Appeals did not address that alternative ground for affirmance, the presence of which might complicate our review.”
In otherwise rejecting Schock’s motion to dismiss, the District Court did note that it would revisit the matter “if at any time it becomes apparent that the prosecution will rely upon evidence that requires the interpretation of
Sotomayor said she concurred in the cert denial on that basis.
For its part, the government has argued that the House regulations are “necessary” and “important” to prove other charges against Schock.
Schock is represented by McGuireWoods attorney George J. Terwilliger III.
“We are gratified that a justice of the United States Supreme Court, looking at our case out of the hundreds that seek Supreme Court review, recognizes that the Schock case presents an important separation of powers issue that remains alive in the case,” Terwilliger said in a statement. “Whether prosecutors can so deeply intrude into the internal workings of the United States House of Representatives is a question yet to be answered in further court proceedings.”