The Limits of Wrongfulness: What Exactly is Prohibited by Hobbs Act Extortion?

Weinstein, Duncan | April 1, 2023

The Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951, prohibits, in interstate commerce, “the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear.” This Note addresses what makes an act “wrongful.” First, this Note reviews the academic literature on what makes extortion morally and legally wrong and the Hobbs Act’s legislative history. Then, it argues that there are four distinct types of threats under the Hobbs Act: violent threats, litigation threats, reputational threats, and economic threats. Each of these threats are judged by distinct standards for wrongfulness, with two circuit splits complicating the doctrine. This Note evaluates ways that these wrongfulness standards could be unified and finds them unsatisfactory. Instead, this Note suggests that prosecutors should be required to allege specific theories of threat in their indictments as a component of procedural due process.