Supreme Court hears arguments on blackmail, river dispute

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments Tuesday in two cases. In Sekhar v. United States [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] the court heard arguments on whether an attorney's "recommendation" is intangible property that can be gained through bribery, and thus under the jurisdiction of federal extortion law [18 USC § 875(d)], including the Hobbs Act [18 USC § 1951 (a)]. Paul Clement, the attorney representing Giridhar Sekhar, argued that extortion and blackmail can only apply to tangible property:

The crime of extortion under the Hobbs Act, like the related crimes of larceny, burglary and embezzlement, is at bottom a property crime. Accordingly, understanding the scope of obtainable property under the Hobbs Act is critical to deciding the scope of the basic criminal prohibition. The Government has offered you a definition of property that only a prosecutor could love: Any intangible right with economic value, but that definition is fundamentally incompatible with this Court's precedence and with Congress's conscious decision in the Hobbs Act to criminalize the State—New York State crime of extortion, but not the New York crime of coercion.
An assistant to the Solicitor General argued that the influence is not the property, but depriving New York's citizens of how its money is spent by exerting influence is the property. In this case, Sekhar allegedly threatened the attorney of New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to gain a government contract through DiNapoli's attorney's recommendation of Sekhar.

The court also heard arguments in Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] on to what extent a state can go into another state's territory to utilize a river that flows through both states. The attorney for the Tarrant Regional Water District, out of Texas, argued that the Red River Compact [materials] clearly allowed Texas to use the Red River as it saw fit, and "Oklahoma is now trying to back out of that bargain." An attorney for Rudolf John Herrmann, representing the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, stated that through a strip called Shawnee Creek, all of the Red River in Texas, and Lake Texoma, "Texas users draw water, quite a lot of water," and thus should not need to dip into Oklahoma territory.

 

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