MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.
A one-count indictment was returned in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana
"Extortion" is defined in the Act, as "the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear . . . ." 18 U. S. C. § 1951 (b) (2).
At the time of the alleged conspiracy, the employees of the Gulf States Utilities Company were out on strike. The appellees are members and officials of labor unions that were seeking a new collective-bargaining agreement with that company. The indictment charged that the appellees and two named coconspirators conspired to obstruct commerce, and that as part of that conspiracy, they
Five specific acts of violence were charged to have been committed in furtherance of the conspiracy—firing highpowered rifles at three Company transformers, draining the oil from a Company transformer, and blowing up a transformer substation owned by the Company. In short, the indictment charged that the appellees had conspired to use and did in fact use violence to obtain for the striking employees higher wages and other employment benefits from the Company.
The District Court granted the appellees' motion to dismiss the indictment for failure to state an offense under the Hobbs Act. 335 F.Supp. 641. The court noted that the appellees were union members on strike against their employer, Gulf States, and that both the strike and its objective of higher wages were legal. The court expressed the view that if "the wages sought by violent acts are wages to be paid for unneeded or unwanted services, or for no services at all," then that violence would constitute extortion within the meaning of the Hobbs Act. Id., at 645. But in this case, by contrast, the court noted that the indictment alleged the use of force to obtain legitimate union objectives: "The union had a right to disrupt the business of the employer by lawfully striking for higher wages. Acts of violence occurring during a lawful strike and resulting in damage to persons or property are undoubtedly punishable under State law. To punish persons for such acts of violence was not the purpose of the Hobbs Act." Id., at 646. The court found "no case where a court has gone so far as to hold the type of activity involved here to be a violation of the Hobbs Act." Id., at 645.
The Government contends that the statutory language unambiguously and without qualification proscribes interference with commerce by "extortion," and that in terms of the statute, "extortion" is "the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear . . . ." Wages are the "property" of the employer, the argument continues, and strike violence to obtain such "property" thus falls within the literal proscription of the Act. But the language of the statute is hardly as clear as the Government would make it out to be. Its interpretation of the Act slights the wording of the statute that proscribes obtaining property only by the "wrongful" use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear. The term "wrongful," which on the face of the statute modifies the use of each of the enumerated means of obtaining property—actual or threatened force, violence, or fear
Construed in this fashion, the Hobbs Act has properly been held to reach instances where union officials threatened force or violence against an employer in order to obtain personal payoffs,
The legislative framework of the Hobbs Act dispels any ambiguity in the wording of the statute and makes it clear that the Act does not apply to the use of force to achieve legitimate labor ends. The predecessor of the Hobbs Act, § 2 of the Anti-Racketeering Act of 1934, 48 Stat. 979,
Congressional disapproval of this decision was swift. Several bills
Congressman Hancock proceeded to read approvingly from an editorial which characterized the teamsters' action in the Local 807 case as "compelling the truckers to pay day's wages to local union drivers whose services were neither wanted nor needed." Ibid. Congressman Fellows stressed the fact that the facts of the Local 807
But by eliminating the wage exception to the Anti-Racketeering Act, the Hobbs Act did not sweep within its reach violence during a strike to achieve legitimate collective-bargaining objectives. It was repeatedly emphasized in the debates that the bill did not "interfere in any way with any legitimate labor objective or activity";
Indeed, in introducing his original bill, Congressman Hobbs
In the nearly three decades that have passed since the enactment of the Hobbs Act, no reported case has upheld the theory that the Act proscribes the use of force to achieve legitimate collective-bargaining demands.
The only previous case in this Court relevant to the issue, United States v. Green, 350 U.S. 415, held no more than that the Hobbs Act had accomplished its objective of overruling the Local 807 case. The alleged extortions in that case, as in Local 807, consisted of attempts to obtain so-called wages for "imposed, unwanted, superfluous and fictitious services of laborers . . . ." Id., at 417. The indictment charged that the employer's consent was obtained "by the wrongful use, to wit, the use for the purposes aforesaid, of actual and threatened force, violence and fear . . . ." Ibid. The Government thus did not rely, as it does in the present case, solely on the use of force in an employer-employee relationship; it alleged a wrongful purpose—to obtain money from the employer that the union officials had no legitimate right to demand. We concluded that the Hobbs Act could reach extortion in an employer-employee relationship and that personal profit to the extortionist was not required, but our holding was carefully limited to the charges in that case: "We rule only on the allegations of the indictment and hold that the acts charged against appellees fall within the terms of the Act." Id., at 421.
Most recently, in United States v. Caldes, 457 F.2d 74, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was squarely presented with the question at issue in this case. Two union officials were convicted of Hobbs Act violations in that they damaged property of a company with which they were negotiating for a collective-bargaining agreement, in an attempt to pressure the company into agreeing to the union contract. Concluding that the Act was not intended to reach militant activity in the pursuit of legitimate unions ends, the court reversed the convictions and ordered the indictment dismissed.
Indeed, not until the indictments were returned in 1970 in this and several other cases has the Government even sought to prosecute under the Hobbs Act actual or threatened violence employed to secure a union contract "calling for higher wages and other monetary benefits."
The Government's broad concept of extortion—the "wrongful" use of force to obtain even the legitimate union demands of higher wages—is not easily restricted. It would cover all overtly coercive conduct in the course of an economic strike, obstructing, delaying, or affecting commerce. The worker who threw a punch on a picket line, or the striker who deflated the tires on his employer's truck would be subject to a Hobbs Act prosecution and the possibility of 20 years' imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.
As we said last Term:
The District Court was correct in dismissing the indictment. Its judgment is affirmed.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, concurring.
I join the Court's opinion. I readily concede that my visceral reaction to immaturely conceived acts of violence of the kind charged in this indictment is that such acts deserve to be dignified as federal crimes. That reaction on my part, however, is legislative in nature rather than judicial. If Congress wishes acts of that kind to be encompassed by a federal statute, it has the constitutional power in the interstate context to effect that result. The appellees so concede. Tr. of Oral Arg. 18-19. But MR. JUSTICE STEWART has gathered the pertinent and persuasive legislative history demonstrating that Congress did not intend to exercise its power to reach these acts of violence.
The Government's posture, with its concession that certain strike violence (which it would downgrade as "incidental" and the dissent as "low level," post, at 418 n. 17), although aimed at achieving a legitimate end, is not covered by the Act, necessarily means that the legislation would be enforced selectively or, at the least, would embroil all concerned with drawing the distinction between major and minor violence. That, for me, is neither an appealing prospect nor solid support for the position taken.
This type of violence, as the Court points out, is subject to state criminal prosecution. That is where it must remain until the Congress acts otherwise in a manner far more clear than the language of the Hobbs Act.
The Court today achieves by interpretation what those who were opposed to the Hobbs Act were unable to get Congress to do. The Court considers primarily the legislative history of a predecessor bill considered by the 78th Congress. The bill before us was considered and enacted by the 79th Congress; and, as I read the debates, the opposition lost in the 79th Congress what they win today. All of which makes pertinent Mr. Justice Holmes' admonition in Missouri, K. & T. R. Co. v. May, 194 U.S. 267, 270, that "it must be remembered that legislatures are ultimate guardians of the liberties and welfare of the people in quite as great a degree as the courts."
In United States v. Local 807, 315 U.S. 521, we had before us the Anti-Racketeering Act of 1934, 48 Stat. 979, which made it a crime to use violence respecting interstate trade or commerce to obtain the "payment of money or other valuable considerations," excluding "the payment of wages by a bona-fide employer to a bona-fide employee." We held that the exception included demands for unwanted or superfluous services and covered those who wanted jobs, not only those who presently had them.
Congress in the Hobbs Act changed the law. The critical change was the exclusion of the employer-employee clause. The Court said in United States v. Green, 350 U.S. 415, 419: "In the Hobbs Act, 60 Stat. 420, carried forward as 18 U. S. C. § 1951, which amended the Anti-Racketeering Act, the exclusion clause involved in the Local 807 decision was dropped. The legislative history makes clear that the new Act was meant to eliminate any grounds for future judicial conclusions that
In Green, the Court held that it was an extortion within the meaning of the Act to use force to obtain payment of wages for unwanted and superfluous services. Id., at 417.
Here, the services were not unwanted or superfluous; they were services being negotiated under a collective-bargaining agreement.
The Court relies mostly on the legislative history of a measure covering the same topic which was passed by the previous House but on which the Senate did not act. Two years later, the bill in its present form was enacted. It was a differently constituted House that debated it and the year was 1945 rather than 1943. So the most relevant legislative history, in my view, concerns the 79th Congress, not the 78th.
The fear was expressed in the House that the elimination of the Exception Clause would open up the prospect of labor's being prosecuted.
Congressman Biemiller, in speaking for the Celler Amendment said:
The Celler Amendment was rejected.
As I read the Congressional Record, Congressman Baldwin spoke for the consensus when he said:
Congressman Celler offered another amendment which would give as a defense to a charge under the Hobbs Act that the employee "did not violate the provisions of the Norris-LaGuardia Act, the Clayton Act, or the Railway Labor Act, or the National Labor Relations Act."
Congressman LaFollette offered an amendment which would keep the 1934 Act intact but would bar the use of violence by a person not a bona fide employee to obtain
In the present case, violence was used during the bargaining —five acts of violence involving the shooting and sabotage of the employer's transformers and the blowing up of a company transformer substation. The violence was used to obtain higher wages and other benefits for union members. The acts literally fit the definition of extortion used in the Hobbs Act, 18 U. S. C. § 1951. The term "extortion" means the use of violence to obtain "property" from another. § 1951 (b) (2). The crime is the use of "extortion" in furtherance of a plan to do anything in violation of the section. § 1951 (a). The prior exception covering those who seek "the payment of wages by a bona-fide employer to a bona-fide employee" was taken out of the Act by Congress. Hence, the use of violence to obtain higher wages is plainly a method of obtaining "property from another" within the meaning of § 1951 (b) (2).
Congressman Lemke said in the House debates on the Hobbs Act, which he opposed, "The minority is generally right."
Whatever may be thought of the policy which the Court today embroiders into the Act, it was the minority view in the House and clearly did not represent the consensus of the House. No light is thrown on the matter by the Senate, for it summarily approved the House version of the bill.
It is easy in these insulated chambers to put an attractive gloss on an Act of Congress if five votes can be obtained. At times, the legislative history of a measure is so clouded or obscure that we must perforce give some meaning to vague words.
While we said in Kirschbaum Co. v. Walling, 316 U.S. 517, 522, that it is "retrospective expansion of meaning which properly deserves the stigma of judicial legislation," the same is true of retrospective contraction of meaning.
I would reverse.
J. Albert Woll, Laurence Gold, and Thomas E. Harris filed a brief for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations as amicus curiae urging affirmance.
"Any person who, in connection with or in relation to any act in any way or in any degree affecting trade or commerce or any article or commodity moving or about to move in trade or commerce—
"(a) Obtains or attempts to obtain, by the use of or attempt to use or threat to use force, violence, or coercion, the payment of money or other valuable considerations, or the purchase or rental of property or protective services, not including, however, the payment of wages by a bona-fide employer to a bona-fide employee; or
"(b) Obtains the property of another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of force or fear, or under color of official right; or
"(c) Commits or threatens to commit an act of physical violence or physical injury to a person or property in furtherance of a plan or purpose to violate sections (a) or (b); or
"(d) Conspires or acts concertedly with any other person or persons to commit any of the foregoing acts; shall, upon conviction thereof, be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment from one to ten years or by a fine of $10,000, or both."
In its report on the bill, the House Committee on the Judiciary reproduced this Court's decision in the Local 807 case and concluded that "[t]he need for the legislation was emphasized by the opinion of the Supreme Court in . . . United States v. Local 807 . . . ." H. R. Rep. No. 238, 79th Cong., 1st Sess., 10. See also S. Rep. No. 1516, 79th Cong., 2d Sess.
Judicial construction of the New York statute reinforces the conclusion that, however militant, union activities to obtain higher wages do not constitute extortion. For extortion requires an intent " `to obtain that which in justice and equity the party is not entitled to receive.' " People v. Cuddihy, 151 Misc. 318, 324, 271 N.Y.S. 450, 456, aff'd, 243 App. Div. 694, 277 N.Y.S. 960; see People v. Weinseimer, 117 App. Div. 603, 616, 102 N.Y.S. 579, 588, aff'd, 190 N.Y. 537, 83 N. E. 1129. An accused would not be guilty of extortion for attempting to achieve legitimate labor goals; he could not be convicted without sufficient evidence that he "was actuated by the purpose of obtaining a financial benefit for himself . . . and was not attempting in good faith to advance the cause of unionism . . . ." People v. Adelstein, 9 App. Div. 2d 907, 908, 195 N.Y.S.2d 27, 28, aff'd sub nom. People v. Squillante, 8 N.Y.2d 998, 169 N.E.2d 425.
Hence, New York's highest court has interpreted its extortion statute to apply to a case where the accused received a payoff to buy an end to labor picketing. People v. Dioguardi, 8 N.Y.2d 260, 168 N.E.2d 683.
"The picketing here . . . may have been perfectly lawful in its inception (assuming it was part of a bona fide organizational effort) and may have remained so—despite its potentially ruinous effect on the employers' businesses—so long as it was employed to accomplish the legitimate labor objective of organization. Its entire character changed from legality to criminality, however, when it was used as a pressure device to exact the payment of money as a condition of its cessation . . . ." Id., at 271, 168 N. E. 2d, at 690-691.
In short, when the objectives of the picketing changed from legitimate labor ends to personal payoffs, then the actions became extortionate.
The briefs in the present case advise us of one other Hobbs Act prosecution that may have been brought under this theory—a 1962 indictment in United States v. Webb, ND Ala., No. 15080.
Similarly, there is nothing to support the dissent's exception for "mischievous" conduct, post, at 418 n. 17, even if we could begin to define the meaning and limits of such a term.
"(a) The term `the payment of wages by a bona fide employer to a bona fide employee' shall not be construed so as to include the payment of money or the transfer of a thing of value by a person to another when the latter shall use or attempt to use or threaten to use force or violence against the body or to the physical property (as distinguished from intangible property) of the former or against the body of anyone having the possession, custody, or control of the physical property of the former, in attempting to obtain or obtaining such payment or transfer.
"(b) The term `the rights of a bona fide labor organization in lawfully carrying out the legitimate objects thereof, as such rights are expressed in existing statutes of the United States' shall not be construed so as to ignore, void, set aside, or nullify the definitions set out or the words used in or the plain meaning of subsection (a) hereof."