KEY POINTS

  • In 2013, Chris Christie allies were convicted in the "Bridgegate" scandal
  • A unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court overturned this conviction
  • SCOTUS asserted that even though wrongdoing was found, it was not criminal

The Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of two allies of the former Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, in the “Bridgegate” case. In 2013, Bridget Kelly and William E. Baroni Jr aided a plot to back up traffic on the nation’s busiest bridge, the George Washington Bridge, in an effort to retaliate against Fort Lee’s mayor who did not endorse Christie’s bid for reelection.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government overreached in the prosecution of Christie’s allies. Democratic Justice Elena Kagan delivered the opinion on behalf of the Court, writing that “Baroni and Kelly used deception to reduce Fort Lee’s access lanes to the George Washington Bridge—and thereby jeopardized the safety of the town’s residents. But not every corrupt act by state or local officials is a federal crime. Because the scheme here did not aim to obtain money or property, Baroni and Kelly could not have violated the federal-program fraud or wire fraud laws.”

Noah Bookbinder, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), criticized the decision, saying “Pay attention to this: at a time when corruption risks are at an all-time high, the Supreme Court has once again weakened federal corruption laws. This is a trend, and the fact that the opinions are unanimous does not make them less dangerous.”

Walter Shaub, former Director of the United States Office of Government Ethics under President Obama, connected this ruling to the Trump administration, warning that “You can be sure that [Attorney General William] Barr will explain the meaning of today's Supreme Court Bridgegate reversal to Trump. If a governor can get away with shutting down a major bridge to punish a political rival, imagine what a president can do. Or don't. You won't have to imagine for long.”

The Supreme Court agreed that Chris Christie’s allies were caught in an unethical scheme, writing that "The evidence the jury heard no doubt shows wrongdoing—deception, corruption, abuse of power," but they still asserted that "the federal fraud statutes at issue do not criminalize all such conduct."