The Supreme Court has unanimously overturned the convictions related to the ‘Bridgegate’ scandal.
In 2013, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie colluded to create traffic jams in Fort Lee, New Jersey for political reasons. This major corruption scandal toppled Christie’s political career and called into question how corruption is handled at the federal level and the recourses available to local opposition to hold local officials accountable. With this ruling, the Supreme Court has essentially shrunk the federal definition of political corruption.
The decision hinges on a technicality in the rule of law; although their actions were morally reprehensible, they weren’t actually illegal according to the statute. It is important to uphold the rule of law, even when there are political points to be gained. The Supreme Court ruled this an “abuse of power,” but not a federal crime.
Chris Christie’s associates, Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, received charges for their involvement and were convicted of wire fraud. Christie consistently denied knowledge, yet Kelly has lashed out at him. In fact, Mr. Christie’s potential presidential campaign sunk after this, and he attacked the U.S. attorney and Justice Department, saying “in recklessly pursuing that outcome, they violated the oath sworn by every member of the Department of Justice.” David Wildstein, former Port Authority official, pleaded guilty and has declared remorse for his actions.
This abuse of power has turned the case into a dispute about “property.” Essentially, if every case of property fraud at a state or local level were prosecuted, there would be a large expansion of federal criminal justice. As a result, it’s crucial to follow the precise law to preserve the system. Justice Kagan has stated that “much of governance involves (as it did here) regulatory choice.” According to the court, this was an exercise of regulatory power that failed to meet property requirements. Officials were not trying to take anything from Port Authority, but were instead trying to send a message to Fort Lee’s mayor. Justice Kagan noted, “not every corrupt act by state or local officials is a federal crime.”
On the other hand, The Supreme Court’s ruling is blocking congressional attempts to define and thus punish government corruption. The ruling narrows the actions that can be under the umbrella of a federal crime, and constrains lawmakers from curbing behavior that is both morally reprehensible and in this case damaging. No federal crimes were considered committed, but the mere ability to get away with something like this shows the faults in our system. The case suggest that state officials have some leeway to commit corrupt acts, and it sends the message that this is ok as long as they don’t involve bribery. This opens the doors to corruption nationwide, at a smaller and larger scale. The evidence showed clear “deception, corruption, [and] abuse of power,” yet there were limited consequences for such actions. Paul Fishman, former U.S. Attorney who led the case, found Christie’s “personal vindictiveness” “stunning, but perhaps not surprising.” President Trump has even celebrated this decision, blaming on the Obama Department of Justice. In a particularly polarized time, it is opening the door to damaging political retaliation.
This scandal has drawn attention into how corruption is handled at a greater level across the nation. The debate over The Supreme Court’s decision is making people question if Congress should broaden the law.