A federal law against extortion does not cover physical violence by protesters who tried to shut down health clinics in the 1980s, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday, USA Today reports. The court noted that since the current case start in 1986, Congress in 1994 passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which makes it a crime to interfere with access to health clinics. The National Organization for Women and two clinics alleged that rotesters had engaged in a conspiracy to disrupt and shut down clinics that performed abortions. The clinics asserted that the activists engaged in racketeering based largely on conduct illegal under the Hobbs Act, which makes obstructing commerce by “robbery or extortion” a crime. if it was based on instances or threats of violence covered by the Hobbs Act.
Reversing a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for a unanimous court that to rule as broadly as NOW sought “would federalize much ordinary criminal behavior, ranging from simple assault to murder, behavior that typically is the subject of state, not federal, prosecution.”