Scheidler v. National Organization for Women, Inc., 537 U.S. 393, 17 (2003)

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

Opinion of the Court

their acts did not amount to the crime of extortion as set forth in the Act, so the rule of lenity referred to in Enmons may apply to their case quite consistently with the statement in Culbert. "[W]hen there are two rational readings of a criminal statute, one harsher than the other, we are to choose the harsher only when Congress has spoken in clear and definite language." McNally v. United States, 483 U. S. 350, 359-360 (1987). If the distinction between extortion and coercion, which we find controls these cases, is to be abandoned, such a significant expansion of the law's coverage must come from Congress, and not from the courts.

Because we find that petitioners did not obtain or attempt to obtain property from respondents, we conclude that there was no basis upon which to find that they committed extortion under the Hobbs Act.

The jury also found that petitioners had committed extortion under various state-law extortion statutes, a separate RICO predicate offense. Petitioners challenged the jury instructions as to these on appeal, but the Court of Appeals held that any error was harmless, because the Hobbs Act verdicts were sufficient to support the relief awarded. Respondents argue in this Court that state extortion offenses do not have to be identical to Hobbs Act extortion to be predicate offenses supporting a RICO violation. They concede, however, that for a state offense to be an "act or threat involving . . . extortion, . . . which is chargeable under State law," as RICO requires, see 18 U. S. C. 1961(1), the conduct must be capable of being generically classified as extortionate. Brief for Respondents 33-34. They further agree that such "generic" extortion is defined as " 'obtaining something of value from another with his consent induced by the wrongful use of force, fear, or threats.' " Id., at 34 (quoting Nardello, 393 U. S., at 290).

This concession is in accord with our decisions in Nardello and Taylor v. United States, 495 U. S. 575 (1990). In Nardello, we held that the Travel Act's prohibition, 18 U. S. C.


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