Hook, Line, and Stinker: How the Jurisdictional 'Hook' for Hobbs is Unconstitutionally Broad, Leads to Overcriminalization, and Absurd Results

Author:Kameron C. Dodge
Position:J.D. Candidate, The University of Iowa College of Law, 2020; B.S., Northwestern University, 2013
Pages:2299-2328
2299
Hook, Line, and Stinker: How the
Jurisdictional “Hook” for Hobbs is
Unconstitutionally Broad, Leads
to Overcriminalization, and
Absurd Results
Kameron C. Dodge*
ABSTRACT: The Hobbs Act, passed by Congress in 1946, makes it a federal
crime to obstruct, delay, or affect commerce through robbery or extortion.
“Commerce” is the federal jurisdictional hook that elevates robbery to a federal
crime. The commerce hook grants jurisdiction for all robberies that Congress’s
Commerce Clause power reaches. This Note argues that federal Hobbs Act
robbery prosecutions for individual, localized robbery eviscerates meaningful
dual federalism distinctions and has led to confusion among lower courts and
patchwork definitions for what it means to “affect commerce” for these cases.
This Note proposes three solutions—at least one for each coordinate branch of
government—to solve the problem. For the judicial branch, the Supreme Court
should declare the Hobbs Act unconstitutional because it grants Congress a
police power to reach purely local robbery that should be left to state prosecution
and that “commerce” should be interpreted consistently with its meaning at
the time of the Hobbs Act’s passage. For the legislative branch, Congress
should amend the Hobbs Act to only allow federal prosecution of robberies that
“substantially and directly” affect commerce. The Note concludes that the
judicial and legislative solutions for Hobbs are unlikely, so pragmatically, the
executive branch should adopt prospective enforcement policies that make
clear Hobbs charges should not be brought for de minimis, localized robbery.
Each of these solutions would aid in restoring the appropriate balance between
federal and state criminal robbery law thus, keeping federal resources trained
on the most pressing national concerns.
*
J.D. Candidate, The University of Iowa College of Law, 2020; B.S., Northwestern
University, 2013. My thanks to Professors Cristina Tilley, Todd Pettys and Mihailis Diamantis for
their helpful comments and advice as well as the Iowa Law Review editorial board for their w ork
on this Note. I owe a particular debt of gratitude to my parents, Mark and Pam; without their
support and encouragement none of my dreams would be possible.
2300 IOWA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 105:2299
I.INTRODUCTION ........................................................................... 2300
II. A REVIEW OF HOBBS ................................................................... 2301
A.HOBBS ACT HISTORY ............................................................ 2302
B.SCOPE OF THE FEDERAL COMMERCE POWER ............................ 2304
C.SUPREME COURTS INTERPRETATION OF “COMMERCE
FROM HOBBS ACT ................................................................. 2307
III. IRREGULARITIES AND MISAPPLICATIONS ..................................... 2310
A.CONFLICTING CIRCUIT INTERPRETATIONS FOR “AFFECT
COMMERCE ......................................................................... 2311
1.Second Circuit ............................................................. 2311
2.Fifth Circuit ................................................................. 2313
3.Ninth Circuit ............................................................... 2314
4.Eighth Circuit .............................................................. 2315
5.Eleventh Circuit........................................................... 2318
B.CIRCUIT CONFLICT ON SUBSTANTIALLY SIMILAR FACTS ........... 2319
1.ATM Robbery is Insufficient to Establish Hobbs
Jurisdiction: United States v. Burton ............................. 2319
2.ATM Robbery is Sufficient to Establish Hobbs
Jurisdiction: United States v. Rose ................................. 2320
C.OVER-FEDERALIZATION OF CRIME UNDER HOBBS .................... 2322
IV.THE SEARCH FOR A LIMITING PRINCIPLE .................................... 2323
A.JUDICIAL BRANCH: PREVENTING HOBBSS APPLICABILITY
TO INDIVIDUALIZED, LOCAL ROBBERY .................................... 2324
B.LEGISLATIVE BRANCH: MODIFYING HOBBSS STATUTORY
TEXT .................................................................................... 2326
C.EXECUTIVE BRANCH: PROHIBIT HOBBS CHARGES FOR
INDIVIDUAL, LOCALIZED ROBBERY ......................................... 2327
V.CONCLUSION .............................................................................. 2328
I. INTRODUCTION
The Hobbs Act (“Hobbs”) was passed in 1946 as an amendment to the
Anti-Racketeering Act of 1934.1 Hobbs was important to the successful
prosecution of mostly intrastate disruptions to transporting goods in
interstate commerce.2 Traditionally, the criminalization and prosecution of
1. 18 U.S.C. § 1951 (2012).
2. Prosecution Under the Hobbs Act and the Expansion of Federal Criminal Jurisdiction, 66 J. CRIM.
L. & CRIMINOLOGY 306, 310 (1975) [hereinafter Prosecution Under Hobbs].

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