Extortion Contortions


Today the Supreme Court unanimously ruled (with Sam Alito sitting out, since he was not on the Court when the case was argued) that the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act cannot be used to sue abortion clinic protesters. It's about time. This case has been running for two decades, and it has been to the Court twice before. Finally the Court has unequivocally stated that the use or threat of force to prevent abortions does not amount to "extortion" under the Hobbs Act and therefore cannot be cited as the basis for alleging a "pattern of racketeering activity" under RICO.

As I've said before, protesters who trespass, block entrances, assault patients or customers, or commit vandalism can and should be prosecuted under state law and/or sued for damages in state court. (As of 1994, they also can prosecuted or sued under the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances Act, itself a questionable exercise of federal power, but one Congress presumably would not have bothered with if it thought RICO already had the area covered.) Suing the leaders of anti-abortion groups under RICO because some of their followers break the law smacks of an attempt to intimidate them into silence, a tactic with chilling implications for controversial speech across the political spectrum.