Scheidler v. National Organization for Women, Inc., 537 U.S. 393, 10 (2003)

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Opinion of the Court

We need not now trace what are the outer boundaries of extortion liability under the Hobbs Act, so that liability might be based on obtaining something as intangible as another's right to exercise exclusive control over the use of a party's business assets.6 Our decisions in United States v. Green, 350 U. S. 415, 420 (1956) (explaining that "extortion . . . in no way depends upon having a direct benefit conferred on the person who obtains the property"), and Carpenter v. United States, 484 U. S. 19, 27 (1987) (finding that confidential business information constitutes "property" for purposes of the federal mail fraud statute), do not require such a result. Whatever the outer boundaries may be, the effort to characterize petitioners' actions here as an "obtaining of property from" respondents is well beyond them. Such a result would be an unwarranted expansion of the meaning of that phrase.

Absent contrary direction from Congress, we begin our interpretation of statutory language with the general presumption that a statutory term has its common-law meaning. See Taylor v. United States, 495 U. S. 575, 592 (1990); Morissette v. United States, 342 U. S. 246, 263 (1952). At common law, extortion was a property offense committed by a public official who took "any money or thing of value" that was not due to him under the pretense that he was entitled to such property by virtue of his office. 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 141 (1765); 3 R. Anderson, Wharton's Criminal Law and Procedure 1393, pp. 790-791 (1957). In 1946, Congress enacted the Hobbs Act, which explicitly "expanded the common-law definition of extortion to include acts by private individuals." Evans v. United States, 504 U. S. 255, 261 (1992) (emphasis deleted). While

6 Accordingly, the dissent is mistaken to suggest that our decision reaches, much less rejects, lower court decisions such as United States v. Tropiano, 418 F. 2d 1069, 1076 (1969), in which the Second Circuit concluded that the intangible right to solicit refuse collection accounts "constituted property within the Hobbs Act definition."

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