CHICAGO (CN) – The 7th Circuit on Monday affirmed the constitutionality of the Hobbs Act, which makes it a crime to rob a business engaged in interstate commerce.
At issue was the conviction of Berry Carr, who held up a Stop N’ Go convenience store in Fitchburg, Wis., and stole $54 in cash. He was charged with robbery under the Hobbs Act and with brandishing a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. Carr received a 15-year sentence.
The Hobbs Act provides that: “Whoever in any way or degree obstructs, delays, or affects commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce, by robbery or extortion, or attempts or conspires so to do … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.”
The law requires the government to demonstrate only a de minimis, or slight, effect on interstate commerce.
Carr pointed to two Supreme/ Court decisions invalidating parts of the Gun-Free School Zones Act and Violence Against Women Act as evidence that a de minimis effect on commerce is insufficient to invoke federal Commerce Clause power. But the 7th Circuit rejected that argument.
“In this case, there is no similar risk that the Hobbs Act will obliterate all limits on federal power,” wrote U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall, sitting on a three-judge appellate panel by designation from Illinois’ Northern District. “Although robbery itself is not necessarily economic activity, Carr’s crime targeted a business engaged in interstate commerce.”
The act is different from those struck down by the Supreme Court because of its requirement that the government prove an interstate nexus, the panel found.
“An act of violence against even one business, like the convenience store in this case, could conceivably deter economic activity and thus harm national commerce,” Gottschall wrote.
“If retail stores, in the aggregate, have a substantial effect on commerce … then the federal government has a legitimate interest in preventing any crime like the one in this case,” she added.