December 2, 2019

Whitehouse Files Supreme Court Brief in ‘Bridgegate’ Case

Washington, DC – Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former Rhode Island Attorney General and U.S. Attorney, filed a friend-of-the-court brief last week in the “Bridgegate” case pending before the Supreme Court.  Whitehouse argues in favor of federal laws and juries to protect the public from the corrupting influence of powerful special interests spending unlimited amounts of money to control the levers of Americans’ government.

“[A] jurisprudence has emerged at the Supreme Court that dramatically narrowed the definition of corruption in the criminal law, limiting how the public through juries can hold its elected officials accountable.  At the same time, the Court’s jurisprudence in campaign-finance decisions has been inattentive to the corrupting influence of unlimited spending in elections.  In consequence, citizens today face both more corruption and less ability to defend themselves from it, undermining the health of our democracy.” Whitehouse writes.  “I urge, in responding to those facts, that the Court not further hobble the public’s capacity in regulating political misdeeds, and that the Court affirm the Founders’ legacy to us of a robust jury role in deterring and punishing public corruption.”

The Bridgegate case, Kelly v. United States, stems from the 2013 controversy in New Jersey over then-Governor Chris Christie’s lane closure on the George Washington Bridge.  The plaintiff, Bridget Anne Kelly, was the senior Christie aide who ordered the closing of the lane on the busy bridge between New Jersey and New York.  Kelly argues that her conviction under federal fraud statutes is invalid because she was simply engaging in ordinary political conduct.

Whitehouse underscores the importance of the jury in our legal system as a safeguard against unchecked political power and that a weak, narrow definition of corruption in federal law diminishes a jury’s power.

“The jury is an essential tool, preserved in the Constitution, for regulating political power, protecting the general public, and fighting corruption,” Whitehouse continues.  “The Founders left that tool to the People for good reason.  Defining corruption narrowly undermines the jury in this important governmental role, and by limiting the number and the types of cases that juries can hear, undercuts the People’s power to defend themselves against political corruption.”

Whitehouse has submitted several briefs to the Supreme Court in cases involving special interests and government corruption.  In August, Whitehouse’s brief in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York, which called out the increasingly partisan voting record of the Supreme Court, stirred a significant response from special interest groups and ideological commentators.  Many of those groups and commentators were linked to the influence campaign – funded lavishly by largely anonymous donors – to tilt the federal judiciary in corporate and partisan interests’ favor.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments in the Bridgegate case early next year and render a decision by June 2020.

Read Whitehouse’s full brief here.



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