The Corner

Re: The Constitution: There’s Nothing It Can’t Do!

Jonah, back when I used to wield enormous power, a young prosecutor came into my lair and asked me to approve an indictment for a push-in robbery (i.e., a theft in which the robber springs on the victim as he opens the door of a home or business). He wished to charge it as a Hobbs Act violation — legalese for the extortion statute in the U.S. penal code.

I explained to this eager beaver that, while push-in robbery is a terrible thing, we were federal prosecutors and could only prosecute offenses that implicated some national interest. The Hobbs Act requires the extortionate act or threat to have an impact on interstate commerce. Since a push-in robbery is strictly a local matter, it is the business of the county district-attorney, not of Leviathan. 

Au contraire, the young prosecutor explained:  this robbery, involving a few hundred dollars in cash, had occurred in the Bronx. Okay, I said, what am I missing? United States currency, he proudly informed me (based on his considerable research into the matter) is not printed in the State of New York — if the robber had taken cash, the cash necessarily had to have been minted out of state, and therefore interstate commerce had been “affected.” That the logic of this meant that there was no activity in life that was beyond federal regulation seemed not to be an issue. After all, he was doing social justice.

I didn’t let him indict the case. As between the two of us, it looks like he was the visionary.

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