Is The Christie Scandal Criminal?

TPM asks around:

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.

“The real question is more a prosecutorial discretion,” he said. “Is this low-level harassing kind of activity such a terrible thing? You have to decide whether you want to unload the heavy artillery.”