Is It A Crime To Conspire To Close The George Washington Bridge?

Talking Points Memo has an interesting piece today on whether the George Washington Bridge scandal enveloping New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has criminal implications.  TPM writes:

Interfering with peoples’ ability to drive between states by closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge between New York and New Jersey might be a crime on its own.

Law professors at two different schools pointed TPM to federal civil right laws, in particular Section 241 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, which begins:

If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same …

According to Supreme Court precedent, your right to interstate travel is protected under the above statute, said Frank Askin, a professor at Rutgers University School of Law. Federal civil rights statutes also treat the use of federal interstate highways as a protected activity.

In the bridge scandal, the now-infamous “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email sent from a Christie aide in the governor’s office to a Christie ally at the Port Authority could arguably establish a conspiracy, said Burt Neuborne, a professor at New York University School of Law. Neuborne portrayed a charge based on these statutes as close to a slam dunk.

Stay tuned for more on this interesting issue.

Hat tip: The Dish

UPDATE (1/11/14):  A reader suggests that the bridge closure conduct may also constitute a violation of 18 U.S.C. section 1951, also known as the Hobbs Act.  It provides:

(a) Whoever in any way or degree obstructs, delays, or affects commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce, by robbery or extortion or attempts or conspires so to do, or commits or threatens physical violence to any person or property in furtherance of a plan or purpose to do anything in violation of this section shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.

I’m not sure I agree with the reader; I don’t see robbery, extortion or threats of physical violence in the bridge scandal.



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