Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



The history of conspiracy, according to Justice Robert Jackson, exemplifies the "'tendency of a principle to expand itself to the limit of its logic.' "" This same phenomenon is present today in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970 (RICO). RICO has moved beyond logic and intent into areas far removed from racketeering. Originally intended to combat organized crime, RICO is used increasingly in ideological disputes. For example, it has been used against abortion clinic protesters and anti-pornography groups.

This Article argues that using RICO in ideological disputes is inappropriate and harmful because it results in the chilling of first amendment rights. Indeed, it argues that RICO threatens civil liberties. Part II of the Article describes the legislative history of RICO, shows the intention of Congress to use RICO against organized crime involvement in economic endeavors, and argues that RICO was not meant to encompass non-economic crimes. Part III examines the key statutory provisions of RICO and the Supreme Court's interpretation of these terms that expands RICO's intended scope. Part IV discusses RICO's predicate acts. After a brief description of techniques used by antiabortion organizations to publicize their views, Part V determines which of these methods the first amendment protects. Part VI reviews three illustrative examples of "mixed" conduct and what happens when RICO clashes with the first amendment. Part VII examines situations in which there is "mixed" conduct, some conduct protected by the first amendment, and some that is not, and how the Court has protected against a chilling effect through use of the doctrines of void for vagueness and precision of regulation. Part VIII argues that RICO should not apply to demonstrators on policy grounds. Part IX analyzes the RICO reform proposals currently before Congress and makes some recommendations for change. Part X concludes that RICO should include an exemption for advocacy activity.