Lawyers for the House of Representatives want time to argue for lawmakers' institutional interests when a federal appeals court hears a case related to alleged corruption.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit is scheduled to hear argument Feb. 18 in the case of former Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.). Renzi was indicted in 2008 on charges that he extorted money from companies that needed help getting congressional approval for land deals, but his lawyers from Steptoe & Johnson say the government, while collecting evidence, violated the Constitution’s protection of legislative “speech or debate.” The case hasn’t gone to trial yet.
Kerry Kircher, the House’s general counsel, writes in a court filing today that the House itself should have some time at oral argument at the San Francisco-based court. He’s requesting the time to argue that the “speech or debate” clause provides for a “non-disclosure privilege” — meaning that investigators should be required to obtain congressional approval before they’re allowed to access certain information related to legislation.
That proposition is controversial because, as some critics argue, it would make executing a wiretap against a member of Congress or collecting evidence in other ways much more difficult. In the widely publicized case of former Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), the D.C. Circuit ruled in 2007 that there is such a “non-disclosure privilege” and that the executive branch violated it while raiding Jefferson’s congressional office.
Kircher is asking that the court add 10 minutes to the allotted argument time or, failing that, that the House get five minutes from the 20 minutes that Renzi’s lawyers get. Neither the Justice Department nor Renzi’s lawyers are opposing the request, the House’s filing says.
The House’s lawyers laid out their argument in an amicus brief in June 2010, acting on behalf of the House’s bipartisan leadership.