Three federal appeals court judges are deciding whether to allow a corruption case against U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, move ahead.
An attorney for the New Jersey Democrat said the case should be thrown out because of a provision in the Constitution known as the “speech or debate” clause, which protects members of Congress from prosecution for engaging in legislative activity.
That is what attorney Abbe Lowell said Menendez was doing when he intervened in a contract dispute regarding a port in the Dominican Republic and when he advocated changes in how the Department of Health and Human Services reimburses doctors for certain drugs through Medicare.
But federal prosecutors allege that Menendez was helping his friend, Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, in exchange for lavish trips, private flights, and hefty campaign contributions.
Prosecutors claim Menendez also used his influence to help some of Melgen’s foreign girlfriends obtain visas.
Menendez pleaded not guilty to the charges last year.
Both sides made their arguments on Monday before a three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, which did not say when it would issue its ruling.
An earlier District Court judge sided with the government, finding that the “speech or debate” rule did not protect Menendez from the corruption charges.
Whichever side loses this appeal could take its case to the U.S. Supreme Court.