High court says RICO was misapplied to abortion protest case
Seventeen years after Roman Catholic abortion activist Joseph Scheidler and other pro-life advocates were sued by abortion clinics under 1970's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that racketeering laws are not applicable to the case.
The National Organization of Women (NOW) v. Scheidler was filed in 1986 and charged Scheidler's Pro-Life Action League, Operation Rescue, and other prolife groups with attempting to crash the abortion industry through a "pattern of racketeering activity."
A federal judge originally ruled in 1991 that RICO, which was designed to fight organized crime, could not be used against abortion protests. However, the Supreme Court overturned the ruling in 1994 saying that it could apply.
This ruling led to the 1998 decision that forced three prolife activists, Scheidler, Andrew Scholberg, and Timothy Murphy, to pay $85, 900 to two abortion clinics represented in court by NOW. Under RICO, all fines are tripled which raised the price to $257,000, plus attorney fees.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the case two years later. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in April. A coalition of 70 activists presented oral arguments in December.
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, wrote in the decision yesterday that RICO prosecution requires evidence of an underlying crime, such as extortion. The high court ruled, however, that there was no proof.
"It is undisputed that petitioners interfered with, disrupted, and in some instances completely deprived respondents of their ability to exercise their property rights," wrote Rehnquist. "But even when their acts of interference and disruption ...1
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