Kelly v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, May 2020)

The Federal Docket

May 12, 2020

Fraud Offenses/Wire Fraud – There was insufficient evidence supporting the conviction for wire fraud where the defendants’ scheme did not seek to obtain money or property.

The Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion reversing convictions the feds obtained as a result of the infamous “Bridgegate Scandal” in New Jersey. In 2013, members of Republican Governor Christie’s administration exacted political retribution against an unsupportive Democratic mayor by reducing the availability of lanes on the George Washington Bridge for the mayor’s commuters. The officials behind the lane closures at the Port Authority falsely claimed that the closures were part of a traffic study. Based in part on those false statements, the officials were convicted of wire fraud on a federally funded program (the Port Authority), and the Third Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court reversed their convictions, holding that the scheme here “did not aim to obtain money or property” and therefore “could not have violated the federal-program fraud or wire fraud laws.” Writing for the majority, Justice Kagan wrote that these statutes, though aimed at protecting the government from fraud, do not “set standards of disclosure and good government for local and state officials” and added that “not every corrupt act by state or local officials is a federal crime.”

The Court concluded that, while perhaps motivated by improper reasons, the “realignment of the access lanes was an exercise of regulatory power” and that “such a regulatory choice is not one to take the government’s property.”

On certiorari from the Third Circuit

Opinion by Kagan, joined by a unanimous Court

Click here to read the opinion.


Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

Scroll to Top