RICO and Anti-abortion Terrorism

The Supreme Court in 1994 expanded RICO by allowing its use by the National Organization of Women (NOW) in a lawsuit against anti-abortion zealot Joseph M. Scheidler. Jeff Builta is Director of Analytical Studies at the Office of International Criminal Justice, a law enforcement research and training facility based at the University of Illinois at Chicago. As Builta observes:

"The government has been hailed by many in and out of the pro-choice movement for taking a tough stance on the issue by using RICO and FACE legislation and opening conspiracy investigations. Others say such measures infringe on Constitutionally protected rights to freedom of assembly and free speech, and that the government actions are making martyrs out of those convicted, and militants of those with strong beliefs."

A number of individuals and groups from the peace and social justice community joined with anti-abortion activists to condemn the ruling as repressive. An ad in The New York Times (which included endorsements by Erwin Knoll, editor of The Progressive, peace activist Liz McAlister of Plowshares, and Leonard Peltier of the American Indian Movement) condemned the "draconian" potential of the decision:

"An amicus brief filed by animal rights activists, homeless advocates and environmentalists, warned that an overbroad interpretation of RICO would surely precipitate an unwarranted interference in political and social advocacy, interference never intended by Congress when it enacted RICO."

"Prosecutors and civil plaintiffs opposed to social change, or to a particular social conviction, now possess an ominous weapon for silencing unpopular causes...[w]e have no doubt they will use this weapon....The application of federal racketeering laws against protesters is a frightful assault against First Amendment guarantees of free speech."

The irony here is that when the political tide shifts, RICO will inevitably be used against some of the same groups now championing its use against the political right.

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