Is the RICO Act Unconstitutionally Broad?


A recent Supreme Court decision has raised the question: Is the RICO Act unconstitutionally broad? Boyle argues that the Act requires an identifiable group structure to be prosecuted under RICO. Boyle’s argument is based heavily on a recent ruling, United States v. Turkette, which held that an association-in-fact enterprise under RICO must be an independent entity.

Although the RICO Act is intended to combat organized crime, it has been used against labor unions, anti-abortion protests, and investment firms. According to a study published by the American Bar Association, more than 90 percent of RICO cases are not brought against organized crime but against legal business, labor unions, and even feuding rabbis. The case against Operation Rescue is a perfect example of why the law is not completely unconstitutional.

Critics of the RICO Act contend that it is overly broad in its application and should be amended to delay the commencement of civil RICO proceedings until the criminal RICO proceeding is completed. However, this argument ignores the fact that a judge would not impose any sentence until the criminal RICO case is settled. This argument is also unconstitutional. The case against civil RICO, which was passed in 1995, is pending before the Supreme Court.

While RICO laws have historically been used against organized crime, they can also be applied against protests, although this practice has decreased over time. A recent case by Judge Scalia makes this more questionable. In his concurring opinion, Judge Scalia noted that the pattern requirement was too vague to protect people from being sued for anti-racist activities. Further, in cases involving organized crime, a few months of racketeering activity is free of charge.

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