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Bridgegate, Reversed

Once upon a time, you might recall, there was another kind of lockdown.

For four days in September 2013, three public officials shut down two traffic lanes on one bridge from New Jersey to New York. It wasn’t just any bridge, though, but the busiest motor-vehicle bridge in the world. And it wasn’t just for any reason but to retaliate against a mayor who wouldn’t endorse their boss for governor.

Their decision had consequences. Traffic ground to a halt. School buses couldn’t budge. An ambulance struggled to reach the victim of a heart attack. The police had trouble responding to a report of a missing child.

In the aftermath, federal prosecutors charged the officials with violating two statutes: one for wire fraud generally; the other for fraud on a federally-funded program or entity. Two of the officials were convicted at trial; the other pleaded guilty and testified against them. The court of appeals upheld the verdicts.

But two weeks ago, the Supreme Court reversed their convictions unanimously.

The problem was their conduct did not violate the statutes they were charged with. These statutes, the Court explained, punish schemes to obtain money or property. They do not criminalize all acts of dishonesty by state or local officials. Nor do they empower federal prosecutors to set standards of good government for them.

So it may have been wrong, and it may have been an abuse of power, but it was not a crime as charged.

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