Supreme Court vacates Bridge-gate convictions

Link to Opinion of the Court in Kelly v United States, et al.

Justice Kagan wrote for a unanimous court.

I could summarize this opinion briefly as follows, being a ■■■■■■ bag is not necessarily a criminal act, particularly a federal criminal act. :rofl:

The Supreme Court was absolutely correct and this is likely the easiest opinion of the term. Absolutely no fraud was committed.

Just two guys being total ■■■■■■ bags, nothing more.

I have quoted the entire syllabus of the decision below, which fully summarizes the decision.

During former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s 2013 reelection campaign, his Deputy Chief of Staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, avidly courted Democratic mayors for their endorsements, but Fort Lee’s mayor refused to back the Governor’s campaign. Determined to punish the mayor, Kelly, Port Authority Deputy Executive Director William Baroni, and another Port Authority official, David Wildstein, decided to reduce from three to one the number of lanes long reserved at the George Washington Bridge’s toll plaza for Fort Lee’s morning commuters. To disguise their efforts at political retribution, Wildstein devised a cover story: The lane realignment was for a traffic study. As part of that cover story, the defendants asked Port Authority traffic engineers to collect some numbers about the effect of the changes. At the suggestion of a Port Authority manager, they also agreed to pay an extra toll collector overtime so that Fort Lee’s one remaining lane would not be shut down if the collector on duty needed a break. The lane realignment caused four days of gridlock in Fort Lee, and only ended when the Port Authority’s Executive Director learned of the scheme. Baroni and Kelly were convicted in federal court of wire fraud, fraud on a federally funded program or entity (the Port Authority), and conspiracy to commit each of those crimes. The Third Circuit affirmed.

Held: 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.

The federal wire fraud statute makes it a crime to effect (with the use of the wires) “any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises.” 18 U. S. C. §1343. Similarly, the federal program fraud statute bars “obtain[ing] by fraud” the “property” (including money) of a federally funded program or entity. §666(a)(1)(A).

These statutes are “limited in scope to the protection of property rights,” and do not authorize federal prosecutors to “set[ ] standards of disclosure and good government for local and state officials.” McNally v. United States, 483 U. S. 350, 360. So under either provision, the Government had to show not only that Baroni and Kelly engaged in deception, but that an object of their fraud was money or property. Cleveland v. United States, 531 U. S. 12, 26.

The Government argues that the scheme had the object of obtaining the Port Authority’s money or property in two ways. First, the Government claims that Baroni and Kelly sought to commandeer part of the Bridge itself by taking control of its physical lanes. Second, the Government asserts that the defendants aimed to deprive the Port Authority of the costs of compensating the traffic engineers and back-up toll collectors. For different reasons, neither of these theories can sustain the verdicts. Baroni’s and Kelly’s realignment of the access lanes was an exercise of regulatory power—a reallocation of the lanes between different groups of drivers. This Court has already held that a scheme to alter such a regulatory choice is not one to take the government’s property. Id., at 23. And while a government’s right to its employees’ time and labor is a property interest, the prosecution must also show that it is an “object of the fraud.” Pasquantino v. United States, 544 U. S. 349, 355. Here, the time and labor of the Port Authority employees were just the implementation costs of the defendants’ scheme to reallocate the Bridge’s lanes—an incidental (even if foreseen) byproduct of their regulatory object. Neither defendant sought to obtain the services that the employees provided. Pp. 6–13.

909 F. 3d 550, reversed and remanded.

KAGAN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

The Constitution was written to protect ■■■■■■ bags. The worthy don’t need it.

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