The Supreme Court of the United States unanimously overturned convictions of two former aides to former Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Both had been convicted nearly four years ago for their roles in the “Bridgegate” scandal.
Former Christie aides Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni were convicted of federal crimes after reapportioning traffic lanes in Fort Lee, New Jersey in an apparent act of payback against a mayor that refused to support Christie’s re-election bid in 2013. The high court heard oral arguments in January, and all nine members ultimately agreed to toss Kelly and Baroni’s convictions Thursday.
Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the court, wrote that Kelly and Baroni’s decisions could not be prosecuted under federal law.
“For no reason other than political payback, 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,” Kagan wrote.
Kagan added that Kelly and Baroni could not be prosecuted for making what the court said was a regulatory decision.
“They did so, according to all the Government’s evidence, for bad reasons; and they did so by resorting to lies,” the justice wrote of Kelly and Baroni’s decision. “But still, what they did was alter a regulatory decision about the toll plaza’s use — in effect, about which drivers had a ‘license’ to use which lanes.”
Christie has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the case, but the scandal is widely believed to have played a role in derailing his political career, particularly his 2016 presidential campaign. Christie left office after two terms as one of the most unpopular governors in the U.S.