The case started in 2013 when associates of Chris Christie, who was then governor of New Jersey, closed access lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish a political opponent, helping to doom Mr. Christie’s presidential ambitions.
That was a wrong, the Supreme Court ruled, but not a federal crime.
The associates, Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, who were convicted of wire fraud and related federal charges for their roles in concocting a “traffic study” that caused extreme delays for motorists seeking to cross the bridge, the busiest in the world, from Fort Lee, N.J., to Manhattan. The mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, had rebuffed a request to endorse Mr. Christie, and this was his punishment.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Ms. Kelly, an aide to Mr. Christie, wrote in an email to officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge. Mr. Christie, who was at the court for Tuesday’s argument, has denied any knowledge of the scheme.
Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the court, said “the evidence the jury heard no doubt shows wrongdoing — deception, corruption, abuse of power.”
“But the federal fraud statutes at issue do not criminalize all such conduct,” she wrote. “Under settled precedent, the officials could violate those laws only if an object of their dishonesty was to obtain the Port Authority’s money or property.”
But, she wrote, “the realignment of the toll lanes was an exercise of regulatory power — something this Court has already held fails to meet the statutes’ property requirement.”