Baylor v. United States

June 11, 2008 • Legal Briefs

The Hobbs Act is an anti‐​racketeering law Congress passed in 1946 to allow federal prosecution of extortion and robbery that impedes the flow of commerce across state lines. Today, the Act is used to prosecute local robberies having no more than a de minimis effect on interstate commerce. In this case, for example, the defendant robbed a Cleveland‐​area pizzeria of $538. The Sixth Circuit held that the Commerce Clause permitted this prosecution because the pizzeria obtained its flour, sauce, and cheese from various states outside Ohio. Cato’s brief, joined by the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence and the Goldwater Institute, argues that it is unconstitutional to federally prosecute robberies with such an attenuated effect on interstate commerce. Doing so destroys the line between the States’ power to punish violent crime and Congress’s power to regulate interstate markets. In addition, this sweeping application of the Hobbs Act is inconsistent with congressional intent and contrary to constitutional clear‐​statement rules designed to protect federalism and avoid unnecessary constitutional adjudication.

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About the Author
Ilya Shapiro

Ilya Shapiro is a vice president of the Cato Institute, director of the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies, and publisher of the Cato Supreme Court Review.