Justices Appear Troubled by New Jersey ‘Bridgegate’ Convictions

January 14, 2020 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court signaled Tuesday that the government may have overreached when it prosecuted two ex-New Jersey officials for their involvement in the “Bridgegate” scandal.

For those who don’t remember, Bridgegate, also known as the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, stemmed from the abrupt closure on September 9, 2013, of two of three toll lanes at the local street entrance of the bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey, during the morning rush hour.

The lanes remained closed for a week before the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey intervened.

A fictitious traffic study was used as cover for the change, but prosecutors said the real motive was political payback.

It was later determined that a staff member and political appointees of then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, colluded to create the traffic jams to punish Fort Lee’s mayor for refusing to endorse Christie’s re-election.

Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni were later convicted of fraud and conspiracy in connection with the scheme.

But on Tuesday morning, at least six of the justices suggested at one time or another during oral argument they were troubled by the prosecution.

The arguments before the high court on Tuesday did not focus on whether Kelly or Baroni participated in the traffic scheme.

The question considered was simply whether under the statute, a public official can defraud the government of its property by advancing a public policy reason for a decision that was “not their subjective real reason for making the decision.”

Chief Justice John Roberts noted that despite the fact that Kelly and Baroni worked to create gridlock by reducing the number of bridge toll lanes reserved for Fort Lee traffic from three to one, the formerly reserved lanes were open to other traffic and therefore “still being used for public purposes.”

But Eric Feigin, who argued the case for the Justice Department’s Office of the Solicitor General, maintained Kelly and Baroni’s actions in the case were fraud “in just the same way that it would be fraud for someone with no connection to the Port Authority to impersonate Port Authority supervisors and order Port Authority employees to realign Port Authority lanes.”

“I don’t see how this case works,” Justice Stephen Breyer said.

Though he allowed what happened at the bridge was not a good thing, he questioned if it was a crime.

“They don’t get a free pass simply because Baroni worked for the Port Authority when the evidence showed that he didn’t have the power to direct these resources in this way without telling the lie,” Feigin told the justices. “And they don’t get a free pass simply because their motive happened to be political.”

But Justice Samuel Alito, who was born in Trenton, New Jersey and was the top federal prosecutor in the state before becoming a judge, suggested he was troubled by the government’s argument that Baroni was not authorized to make changes to the bridge access lanes.

“I’ve read these jury instructions several times. There’s nothing in there that would alert a jury, a juror, to the obligation to find that Baroni was unauthorized,” Alito said.

Kelly was weeks from beginning a 13-month sentence last year when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Baroni had begun serving his 18-month sentence but was released from prison after the high court agreed to weigh in.

Both, now free on bail, were present for Tuesday’s arguments, as was Christie, who has long denied knowing about the plan as it was unfolding.

Supreme Court

Trump Says It Will be 'Hard to Get' His Election Claims to Supreme Court
2020 Elections
Trump Says It Will be 'Hard to Get' His Election Claims to Supreme Court

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, even while repeating his groundless claim that "we won the race," appeared Sunday to acknowledge dwindling chances of success in his legal battle to overturn the results of the Nov. 3 election won by President-elect Joe Biden. "It's hard to get into the Supreme Court," he said... Read More

High Court Blocks NY Coronavirus Limits on Houses of Worship
Supreme Court
High Court Blocks NY Coronavirus Limits on Houses of Worship

WASHINGTON (AP) — As coronavirus cases surge again nationwide the Supreme Court late Wednesday barred New York from enforcing certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues in areas designated as hard hit by the virus. The justices split 5-4 with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the... Read More

Alito: COVID Crisis Has Been a ‘Constitutional Stress Test’
Supreme Court
Alito: COVID Crisis Has Been a ‘Constitutional Stress Test’
November 13, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., told the Federalist Society in a keynote address Thursday night the coronavirus pandemic has led to "previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty." "I am not diminishing the severity of the virus's threat to public health," Alito continued in a... Read More

Supreme Court Appears Likely to Preserve Most of Affordable Care Act
Supreme Court
Supreme Court Appears Likely to Preserve Most of Affordable Care Act
November 10, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON -- So much for the new conservative majority of the Supreme Court dismantling the Affordable Care Act. On Tuesday, during oral arguments for California v. Texas, one of this term's most anticipated cases, two members of that majority, suggested they're not inclined to strike down... Read More

All About the New ACA Challenge Before the Supreme Court
Supreme Court
All About the New ACA Challenge Before the Supreme Court
November 10, 2020
by Kate Michael

WASHINGTON — This morning, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on a legal challenge seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act.  This third major challenge to the ACA heard by the Supreme Court, Texas v. California seeks to decide whether Congress, by eliminating the penalty... Read More

Political Gaze Shifts to the Supreme Court as Justices Hear Pivotal Health Care Case
Supreme Court
Political Gaze Shifts to the Supreme Court as Justices Hear Pivotal Health Care Case

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett hears oral argument Tuesday in a case that threatens to wipe out the 2010 health care law, likely the term's most consequential case, under a political spotlight that rarely shines brighter on justices who would rather stay out of it.... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top