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Scheidler v. National Organization for Women (2006)

In Brief

Scheidler v. National Organization for Women, Inc., 547 U.S. 9 (2006): Court rules that pro-life protestors do not violate RICO extortion law

The National Organization for Women and two abortion clinics filed suit against Joseph Scheidler and the Pro-Life Action Network claiming they were members of a nationwide conspiracy to shut down abortion clinics through racketeering and extortion in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

The case first reached the Supreme Court in 1994 on the question of whether, under RICO, racketeering activities must be motivated by an economic purpose. The Court ruled they did not.

Subsequently the protestors were found to be in violation of RICO for activity which amounted to extortion under the Hobbs Act, a predicate offense to RICO; namely, obtaining the intangible "property" of the women's right to seek medical services and the abortion doctors' and clinics' right to provide them. The protestors appealed, and the case reached the Supreme Court a second time in 2003. The Supreme Court reversed, ruling that the protestors' interference with the exercise of intangible property rights did not amount to "obtaining" the intangible property, a necessary element of extortion.

The case returned to the Supreme Court a third time on the question of whether the Hobbs Act forbids violent conduct per se or only violent behavior connected with robbery or extortion. The Supreme Court ruled that physical violence unrelated to robbery or extortion falls outside the Hobbs Act, and the RICO claim was therefore dismissed.

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