Two people, Chris Christie’s aide Bridget Anne Kelly and Port Authority director Bill Baroni, were convicted of fraud in connection with Bridgegate. Kelly was sentenced to 13 months in prison last April but has remained out while the case is being appealed. Now the Supreme Court is hearing an appeal of the case and Fox News reports that several of the Justices appear ready to overturn the fraud conviction.
A majority of justices wondered whether the public corruption case went too far, appearing to agree this was more about an unfortunate politically motivated scheme, where no money or property was exchanged for political favors…
“Isn’t it often the case that somebody who has the authority to do something may lie about why the person is doing the thing because, if the real reason was exposed, it would cause a furor, people would be angry,” said Justice Samuel Alito. “But that doesn’t show the person doesn’t have the authority to do it.”
NBC News has more on the Justices skeptical of the government’s case:
“The object of this deception was not to obtain property. The object was to create a traffic jam. The object was to benefit people politically,” Justice Elena Kagan said.
Chief Justice John Roberts made the same point.
“The object of the scheme was not to commandeer lanes on the bridge,” he said. “The object was to cause a traffic jam in Fort Lee.”…
“The government is filled with rules. And there are numerous instances where a person might say something untrue about something related to a rule that gives him authority for that,” Justice Stephen Breyer said. “I don’t see how this case works.”
So it’s not shaping up to be a traditional left-right divide in this case because you have Kagan and Breyer both expressing the same basic points as Roberts and Alito.
A ruling in favor of the lower court convictions could open elected officials to fraud charges anytime they used their authority but aren’t truthful about why they were doing it. NBC offers the example of a mayor who uses his authority to fill potholes in a neighborhood where his supporters live. He may claim he’s just doing the city’s business by filling potholes but what if his motivation has a political element to it. Does that open him up to federal fraud charges?
Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor were the only members of the Supreme Court who seemed to find the government case convincing.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was skeptical, pushing back at claims that public resource costs associated the scheme were “incidental” to the political motives to cause a traffic jam.
“Why do you call it incidental? I mean, it was essential to the scheme,” Ginsburg said…
Justice Sonia Sotomayor said she was concerned about headlines like “Our public officials now can use government resources for their private ends.”
Chris Christie was present at the court for today’s arguments. The court’s decision will be released in June.