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Court Takes Narrow View of Hobbs Act in Abortion Clinic Case:
The Supreme Court has handed down a unanimous opinion in Scheidler v. National Organization for Women, a case involving legal remedies to block abortion clinic protests. Here is the introduction of the opinion, authored by Justice Breyer:
  A section of Title 18 of the United States Code (called the Hobbs Act) says that an individual commits a federal crime if he or she "obstructs, delays, or affects commerce" by (1) "robbery," (2) "extortion," or (3) "commit[ting] or threaten[ing] physical violence to any person or property in furtherance of a plan or purpose to do anything in violation of this section." ยง1951(a) (emphasis added). The dispute in these cases concerns the meaning of the underscored words, in particular the words, "in furtherance of a plan or purpose to do anything in violation of this section." Does this phrase refer to (violence committed pursuant to) those plans or purposes that affect interstate commerce through robbery or extortion? Or does it refer to (violence committed pursuant to) those plans or purposes that affect interstate commerce, plain and simple? If the former, the statute governs only a limited subset of violent behavior, namely, behavior connected with robbery and extortion. If the latter, the statute governs a far broader range of human activity, namely, all violent actions (against persons or property) that affect interstate commerce. In our view, the former, more restrictive reading of the Act is the correct interpretation.
Don Miller (mail):
As a non-lawyer, I am often amazed at how creative people can be when trying to read a law to favor their viewpoint.

When this case first reared its head, oh so many years ago, I was dumbfounded by it. Now after two Supreme Court rulings on the exact same case, both against the petioners, I hope that it is laid to rest.

I admire the persistence and creativity of the legal team that persued this though. They were true believers in every sense of the word.

8-0, and an opinion signed by all justices, seems a pretty firm stand that the petitioners were mistaken in their approach though.
2.28.2006 1:07pm
A.W. (mail):
I am sure that the pro-abortion lobby will freak out about this decision, but civil libertarians should take comfort in one fact: the principle of interpreting criminal statutes narrowly remains strong. That means you are not likely to go to jail, because a judge got creative. The fact that this approach is also preserving freedom of protest only makes us feel better.

Of course, we cannot so disable the government that it cannot take positive action to protect our rights and freedoms. This is a side of the issue that the left often misses in the war on terror. The war on terror is a pro-rights war. How free are you, if islamofascists are "free" to committ wanton violence on our population and are willing to resort to violence in order to enforce even a ban on cartoons? Likewise, advocates of the right to abortion can rightfully argue that positive government action is necessary, or else the domestic terrorists lurking in the anti-abortion movement will de facto eliminate that right by violence. But i don't think we are at that point, and i believe that other remedies are adequate.
2.28.2006 1:19pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
What interests me is whether Roberts is going to get more unanimous opinions out of this court than his predeccor did?
2.28.2006 1:30pm
madisonian (mail):
Don Miller, I think you mean respondents. The petitioners, in both today's decision and in Scheidler II, were the abortion protesters, the defendants in the underlying litigation, which now -- thankfully -- has been read its last rites.
2.28.2006 1:43pm
Defending the Indefensible:
A.W. is trying to have his bread buttered both ways. I think this decision is a good one, and I hope there may be a recommencing tendency towards limiting the overreach of federal authority on weak statutory and constitutional grounds.
2.28.2006 1:45pm
Anonymous coward:
I had a couple of reactions: 1) isn't this analagous to the Lopez-et al. Commerce Clause rulings? By describing the choice of interpretations as they did, (either it's a virtually boundless law, or the traditional boundaries apply) the Court compelled its conclusion. 2) the first of the '3 questions' posed by the Court (which they then decided they didn't need to answer) could only have been put there as a 'don't make me come down there' warning shot to the 7th Circuit. The Ninth Circuit probably yawns at this kind of thing, but has the 7th been publicly chastised like this previously?
2.28.2006 1:48pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Anon, aren't those questions drafted by the petitioners?

More of a dig, I think, is this at p. 9:

Not surprisingly, other Courts of Appeals that have considered the question have rejected respondents' construction of the Act

followed by a cite to the Ninth Circuit. I also note that the cases were remanded with a direction to enter judgment for the petitioners--no wiggle-room there.
2.28.2006 2:07pm
Legal Thoughts (mail):
With regard to Robert Schwartz's reference to unanimity (which a commenter at SCOTUS blog also mentioned), I think that it's important to point out that both this case and the unanimous antitrust decision handed down today are relatively "easy" cases. The soundbyte from the Scheidler coverage is that the Court "sided with abortion protesters." But the legal issue, as the excerpt cited by Prof. Kerr makes clear, was a rather straightforward question of statutory interpretation.

Although the unanimity of Ayotte was somewhat surprising, that same cannot be said of O Centro, especially on the heels of last term's decision in Cutter v. Wilkinson. None of this is to say that all or even any of these rulings are correct, but the Court's decisions in each case probably accord with how most disinterested observers thought the legal issues in each one should be resolved.
2.28.2006 3:09pm
Defending the Indefensible:
Legal Thoughts,

Raich remains an outlier though, which puts into question the federalism jurisprudence of the court. We still don't know how Roberts or Alito would have come down on that decision, and the two Justices they replaced were two of the three that would not have extended the commerce clause to such extraordinary lengths. So there's no such thing as an "easy" prediction of what the court will do in any given commerce clause case.
2.28.2006 3:22pm
Hoosier:
Defending:

I am one of the non-lawyers on this blog, so bear with my ignorance, please. Your comment:

"A.W. is trying to have his bread buttered both ways. I think this decision is a good one, and I hope there may be a recommencing tendency towards limiting the overreach of federal authority on weak statutory and constitutional grounds."

Struck me as something that I should understand, but don't. Could you explain what you mean, and why you read such a tendency into the decision? (And please don't read any challenge into my post. I honestly mean that I don't understand this issue, and simply need some background. Thanks.)
2.28.2006 3:38pm
KMAJ (mail):
Just an extenuating thought, could this be a precursor of the persuasiveness of Chief Justice Roberts when they confer after the case has been presented ? His demeanor during his hearings could have been a foreshadowing of his performance as was his success in arguing before the court prior to his tenure on the bench. I think Roberts is going to prove to be the more important nomination, much moreso than Alito.
2.28.2006 4:29pm
Defending the Indefensible:
Hoosier,

I'm not reading a tendency in, but I'm hoping this might indicate a shift towards restraint on the exercise of federal power.
2.28.2006 5:02pm
madisonian (mail):
I'm hoping this might indicate a shift towards restraint on the exercise of federal power.

Salutary as today's decision is, it's hard to read it as signaling the Court's willingness to reign in federal power. After all, the federal government itself urged the reading of the Hobbs Act that the Court embraced. In the end, Scheidler III is less about federal power than it is about rejecting an absurd interpretation of a federal statute that had been adopted by NOW (and a sympathetic court of appeals) in a final desperate attempt to save a doomed lawsuit.
2.28.2006 5:23pm
dick thompson (mail):
Madisonian et al,

Would you please check the meaning of "reign" and "rein" and use the right one? Not to poke at you alone but this is a no-brainer for picking the right word. Lawyers are supposed to be better at this than laymen are but I see this all over the place.
3.1.2006 1:29pm