Hobbs Act and interstate commerce

There is a GQ burried in here, I promise. Hopefully one of the practicing lawyers can help.

This question comes to mind because of a recent abduction case here in Connecticut. The three suspects are currently being held on federal charges of violating the Hobbs Act, rather than state charges of kidnapping:

I also recall that initially John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo (the DC sniper suspects) were also held on Hobbs Act charges.

I see that the Hobbs Act, (US Code Title 18 section 1951) makes it a crime to interfere with interstate commerce by extortion, robbery , or threats of violence. The definitions state:

The victim in the abduction case, I should say, is a money manager for an investment firm.

My question is what “commerce” is being interfered with in these cases? The definition (anachronistically, perhaps) seems to look at commerce as moving goods or money across state lines. I assume the case law has broadened the definition, but I’d like to know how and to what extent.


Interstate Commerce is defined in incredibly broad terms. This came out of efforts to address the Great Depression and lead to a fantastic expansion of the federal government’s power. For instance, in the leading case (Wickard v. Filburn, IIRC), it was found that a farmer who grew more wheat (or some other crop, but I think wheat) than the quota allowed him by the federal price support legislation was in violation of interstate commerce, even though there was no question that the excess wheat was only for personal use and was grown wholly within a single state. The Court reasoned that, had the farmer complied with the law, he would have been forced to buy wheat on the market. In the aggregate, this would lead to a rise in crop prices and a more stable agricultural economy throughout the country. Therefore, the farmer’s individual efforts had an effect on interstate commerce and were therefore regulable by the federal legislature.

Given that the kidnapee in the case you mentioned was involved in managing investment money, it seems clear that he had something to do with the maintenance of the interstate economy. Given the broad interpretation of I.C., it definitely seems that this falls within it.


For more good reading on the Hobbs Act and case law on it check out the Department of Justice’s Criminal Resource Manual.

Great! Thanks, both of you, for the good information.