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  • New Jersey’s dirty laundry was hung out for all the nation to see. The problem is, the U.S. Supreme Court justices don’t seem to think it’s all that dirty. Two aides to Gov. Chris Christie, who were convicted of misusing federal funds when they closed down Fort Lee lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish the mayor for not supporting Christie’s reelection, found sympathy in the high court.
    A New Jersey federal jury found Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly guilty. U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton called it an “outrageous display of an abuse of power.” A federal appellate court said the pair used federal funds “to execute their scheme” and that placed it within “the ambit of the federal criminal law.”
    But as headlines said, the Supreme Court justices were “skeptical” of the case and “sympathetic” to the Christie aides. Unlike the appellate court, the justices just couldn’t figure out how federal law was applied. Justice Stephen Breyer said, “I don’t see how this case works.”
    But school kids and ambulance drivers did. The four-day lane closure scheme on the world’s busiest bridge was planned to start on the first day of school, meaning school buses, commuters, ambulances and fire trucks were stuck in the traffic jam. The conspirators agreed to disregard the pleas from the mayor and others about the risk to public safety.
    Christie sat in the front row at the Supreme Court hearing, and well he should. New York Times reporting showed how Bridgegate was just one example of a system inside the governor’s office and the Port Authority (where Baroni was Christie’s top staff appointee) that rewarded those who supported Christie and punished those who didn’t. The group inside Christie’s office, called intergovernmental affairs, was first led by Bill Stepien (a top political and campaign aide to President Trump) and later by Kelly.
    The highest judges in the country appear to have lost touch with everyday working people. Breyer said the two Christie aides did not stop the public from using the bridge. “It was just a problem getting there.”
    In 1987, the high court overturned the conviction of Kentucky officials skimming money from insurance companies. In 2016, the justices vacated the bribery conviction of Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell. The high court is expected to announce its decision on the Bridgegate case by June.
    The U.S. Supreme Court decisions set the parameters for corruption in this country. By giving public officials a wide berth on corrupt conduct, the justices unleash more corruption. Public officials are protected, instead of the public. There is no just mercy for common folk, like the school kids and the emergency crews caught in the traffic jam.
    Ariane de Vogue, CNN, Jan. 14, 2020; Ted Sherman, NJ Advance Media, Jan. 14, 2020; Richard Wolf, USA Today, Jan. 14, 2020; Ryan Hutchins, Politico, Jan. 14, 2020; Kate Zernike and David W. Chen, New York Times, Jan. 29, 2014; Kate Zernike and Matt Flegenheimer, New York Times, March 11, 2014