The Supreme Court just overturned two convictions in Chris Christie's Bridgegate scandal
On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in the federal government’s case in the Bridgegate scandal — and in doing so, it cleared the convictions of two allies of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: Bridget Ann Kelly (formerly Christie’s deputy executive director at the Port Authority of New York) and Bill Baroni (Christie’s former deputy chief of staff). The decision was unanimous.
It was a complex case, and many observers argued that prosecutors had stretched the law to criminalize a scandal that, while it was shocking to the public, may not have been technically illegal. The Supreme Court agreed with this analysis.
Reporting on the ruling in Politico, reporters Ryan Hutchins and Josh Gerstein explain that the justices concluded that Kelly and Baroni “did not defraud the government of its ‘property’ by closing off two local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge over three days in September 2013. The traffic-snarling political stunt was designed to punish a Democratic mayor who had refused to endorse Christie, a Republican, for reelection as New Jersey governor.”
According to Justice Elena Kagan, the actions of Kelly and Baroni should not be prosecuted as fraud under U.S. federal law.
Kagan wrote: “If U.S. attorneys could prosecute as property fraud every lie a state or local official tells in making such a decision, the result would be.… ‘a sweeping expansion of federal criminal jurisdiction.’ In effect, the federal government could use the criminal law to enforce (its view of) integrity in broad swaths of state and local policymaking. The property fraud statutes do not countenance that outcome.”
However, Kagan was not condoning Kelly and Baroni’s actions, but rather, the justice believed that those actions — however egregious — fell outside of federal corruption laws.
“As Kelly’s own lawyer acknowledged, this case involves an ‘abuse of power,’" Kagan wrote. "The evidence the jury heard no doubt shows wrongdoing — deception, corruption, abuse of power. But the federal fraud statutes at issue do not criminalize all such conduct.”
In this ruling, all of the High Court justices disagreed with an earlier by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia; that ruling upheld most of the counts against Kelly and Baroni, who in 2016, were both convicted for their roles in Bridgegate.