Vanderbilt Law Review

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This Symposium comes at a very opportune time. RICO seems to be on everyone's mind. The attention that RICO has garnered in the last few years in the courts, the press, and the legal academy has in-creased steadily, and the cries for change, at least from some quarters,have become deafening. Judge David Sentelle of the D.C. Circuit Courtof Appeals recently labeled RICO "The Monster That Ate Jurisprudence;" Chief Justice William Rehnquist has repeatedly called for a defederalization of RICO; and groups as diverse as the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the American Civil Liberties Union have argued vociferously for a curtailment of the present statute.Four years ago the Supreme Court in Sedima, S.P.R.L. v. Imrex Co. pointedly told Congress that the remedy for the perceived over-breadth of RICO lies with the legislative branch. Despite this open invitation and a variety of legislative proposals, Congress has yet to address these problems. In each legislative session RICO opponents bravely predict that the days of the extant version of RICO are numbered. Every session to date, including the latest one however, has failed to produce the promised amendment.

In addition to the movement for statutory amendment, the current version of RICO now faces Justice Antonin Scalia's not so veiled threat last term in H.J. Inc. v. Northwestern Bell Telephone Co., that the Court would find the statute unconstitutionally vague when presented with the appropriate case. Three other Justices joined Justice Scalia in raising the possibility that the Constitution may limit RICO's future.Despite this outcry for change, RICO is not without its defenders.Few would contest the proposition that RICO has enabled the United States Attorneys, with guidance from the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, to secure a number of important convictions. Federal prosecutors readily admit that RICO has become one of the government's more effective tools for attacking drug trafficking and official corruption. Any proposed change in RICO must be measured not only in terms of its purported benefits in decreasing the statute's perceived abuses, but also in terms of the costs that it may impose on desirable law enforcement efforts.With this uncertainty surrounding RICO, the Vanderbilt Law Re-view Symposium attempts to assess the current state of RICO, and to set forth the arguments over its appropriate future course. It has fallen to me to preface this enterprise, and I think that the proper place to begin this Symposium is with a short description of RICO's statutory framework. It is this framework that RICO opponents cite as the root of the problem.