Evans v. United States, 504 U.S. 255, 22 (1992)

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Opinion of Kennedy, J.

if the quid pro quo requirement did not have firm roots in the statutory language, it would constitute no abuse of judicial power for us to find it by implication.

Morissette legitimates the Court's decision in an additional way. As both the Court and the dissent agree, compare ante, at 260, n. 4, with post, at 288, n. 5, Congress' choice of the phrase "under color of official right" rather than "by colour of his office" does not reflect a substantive modification of the common law. Instead, both the Court and dissent conclude that the language at issue here must be interpreted in light of the familiar principle that absent any indication otherwise, Congress meant its words to be interpreted in light of the common law. Morissette, supra, at 263. As to the meaning of the common law, I agree with the Court's analysis and therefore join Part III of the Court's opinion.

While the dissent may well be correct that prior to the enactment of the Hobbs Act a large number of the reported official extortion cases in the United States happened to involve false pretenses, those cases do not so much as hint that a false pretense of right was ever considered as an essential element of the offense. See, e. g., People v. Whaley, 6 Cow. 661, 663-664 (N. Y. Sup. Ct. 1827) ("Extortion signifies, in an enlarged sense, any oppression under color of right. In a stricter sense, it signifies the taking of money by any officer, by color of his office; either, where none at all is due, or not so much due, or when it is not yet due"); Hanley v. State, 125 Wis. 396, 401-402, 104 N. W. 57, 59 (1905) ("The common-law offense of extortion is said 'to be an abuse of public justice, which consists in any officer's unlawfully taking by color of his office, from any man, any money or thing of value that is not due him, or more than is due him, or before it is due' ") (quoting 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries *141). Furthermore, as the Court demonstrates, see ante, at 269-270, during the same period other American courts affirmed convictions of public officials for extortion based upon corrupt receipt of payment absent any claim of right.

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