Volume 53

You Shall Go No Further: The Hobbs Act and the Expansion of Federal Jurisdiction

by Matt Evola

The Hobbs Act was adopted in 1946 to combat what was, at the time, most frequently referred to as “extortion,” “paying of tribute,” or, more colorfully, “highway robbery.” Congressional debate from the time indicates that the Act was crafted to target a growing problem in urban areas around the United States: the forced payment of fees for farmers delivering goods to market. At the time, farmers would be stopped upon entering major cities and be forced to either pay a fee or hire a union driver to deliver their goods the remaining distance to local markets. Thus, the “robbery” was most often referred to as “extortion” or “paying of tribute,” and was really only called “robbery” when referencing the place where the crime would happen: on the highway. However, when Congress sought to solve the problem, the term “robbery” made its way into the Act. This historical fluke happened despite congressional discussion of any intent to reach actual robberies that may occur after the point at which goods had reached market.

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