Scheidler v. National Organization for Women, Inc., 537 U.S. 393, 11 (2003)

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Cite as: 537 U. S. 393 (2003)

Opinion of the Court

the Hobbs Act expanded the scope of common-law extortion to include private individuals, the statutory language retained the requirement that property must be "obtained." See 18 U. S. C. 1951(b)(2).

Congress used two sources of law as models in formulating the Hobbs Act: the Penal Code of New York and the Field Code, a 19th-century model penal code. See Evans, supra, at 261-262, n. 9.7 Both the New York statute and the Field Code defined extortion as "the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by a wrongful use of force or fear, or under color of official right." 4 Commissioners of the Code, Proposed Penal Code of the State of New York 613 (1865) (reprint 1998) (Field Code); N. Y. Penal Law 850 (1909). The Field Code explained that extortion was one of four property crimes, along with robbery, larceny, and embezzlement, that included "the criminal acquisition of . . . property." 584 note, p. 210. New York case law before the enactment of the Hobbs Act demonstrates that this "obtaining of property" requirement included both a deprivation and acquisition of property. See, e. g., People v. Ryan, 232 N. Y. 234, 236, 133 N. E. 572, 573 (1921) (explaining that an intent "to extort" requires an accompanying intent to "gain money or property"); People v. Weinseimer, 117 App. Div. 603, 616, 102 N. Y. S. 579, 588 (1907) (noting that in an extortion prosecution, the issue that must be decided is whether the accused "receive[d] [money] from the complainant").8

7 Representative Hobbs explicitly stated that the term extortion was "based on the New York law." 89 Cong. Rec. 3227 (1943).

8 The dissent endorses the opinion of the Court of Appeals in United States v. Arena, 180 F. 3d 380 (CA2 1999), to reach a more expansive definition of "obtain" than is found in the cases just cited. The Court of Appeals quoted part of a dictionary definition of the word "obtain" in Webster's Third New International Dictionary, 180 F. 3d, at 394. The full text of the definition reads "to gain or attain possession or disposal of." That court then resorted to the dictionary definition of "disposal," which includes "the regulation of the fate . . . of something." Surely if the rule of lenity, which we have held applicable to the Hobbs Act, see infra, at 408,


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