Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Frequent use of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970 (RICO)' by government and private litigants has prompted a chorus of criticism during the last five years. This criticism has not been restricted to the narrow confines of the legal profession;many respectable newspapers recently have issued calls for the outright repeal of RICO. Attorneys who regularly defend against criminal or civil RICO allegations cannot take credit for the increasing dissatisfaction with RICO. Rather, it is the successes, and indeed the excesses, of RICO's proponents that have tarnished the statute's image. RICO's revolutionary application to increasingly broad areas of human conduct has unsettled jurists, lawyers, and laypersons. Although Congress was driven in 1970 to devise a cure for the disease of organized crime, RICO has been applied almost exclusively in other contexts." While Congress often has enacted legislation that has unintended consequences, the gap between the legislative goals of RICO and its practical impact is dramatic, and these unintended consequences continue to mount.

As RICO enters its third decade, it stands before the court of public opinion, indicted but not convicted. The charges against RICO come from all quarters. Repeal or meaningful reform is necessary. Clearly, it is time to reconsider RICO, its purposes, and its effects.

Part II of this Article briefly will examine RICO's short history to identify both intended and unintended developments in its evolution and to highlight some areas that have given rise to public concern over RICO's growth.

Part III of this Article will address the political and policy implications of these developments. Finally, after concluding that no satisfactory political resolution is likely,

Part IV of this Article will suggest that the "void for vagueness" doctrine should play a significant role in repealing RICO or in restricting its currently overbroad reach.