United States v. Enmons

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United States v. Enmons
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued December 4, 1972
Decided February 22, 1973
Full case name United States v. Enmons
Citations 410 U.S. 396 (more)
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William O. Douglas · William J. Brennan, Jr.
Potter Stewart · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell, Jr. · William Rehnquist
Case opinions
Majority Stewart, joined by Brennan, White, Marshall, Blackmun
Concurrence Blackmun
Dissent Douglas, joined by Burger, Powell, Rehnquist

United States v. Enmons, 410 U.S. 396 (1973), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that the federal Anti-Racketeering Act of 1934, known as the Hobbs Act, does not cover union violence in furtherance of the union's objectives.

The case involved a labor strike in which members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) fired rifles at three utility company transformers, drained the oil from another, and blew up a company substation. The labor union in question was seeking a higher-pay contract and other benefits from their employer, the Gulf States Utilities Company which is now part of Entergy. The federal government tried the defendants under the Hobbs Act. The Court ruled that "The Hobbs Act, which makes it a federal crime to obstruct interstate commerce by robbery or extortion, does not reach the use of violence (which is readily punishable under state law) to achieve legitimate union objectives, such as higher wages in return for genuine services that the employer seeks."[1]

Details of the case[edit]

The indictment against the alleged conspirators charged them with being in violation of the Hobbs Act, which states that anyone attempting to affect or obstruct commerce through violence or the threat of violence against any person or property "shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both." The indictment argued that the union members obstructed commerce with their actions against the Utilities Company, and attempted to "obtain the property of [their employer] in the form of wages and other things of value" by using the wrongful use of force and the fear of economic loss.

The court acknowledged that using threats and force to obtain property is wrongful. However, the court reasoned that it is considered "wrongful" only when the perpetrator has no "legitimate claim" to it. Since federal law empowers unions with the right to strike, the use of violence to secure higher pay and benefits was not extortion. The case was dismissed. Such violent acts can, however, be punishable under normal state or federal laws.

In understanding Enmons, it is important to keep in mind that what the Hobbs Act outlaws is extortion, not just any bad act. Federal law, in particular the National Labor Relations Act, says that collective bargaining and strikes in support of collective bargaining goals are legal and protected. Therefore, since collective bargaining is purpose that is not extortion, one of the key elements of a Hobbs Act violation is not met.


While labor unions as a whole are exempt from prosecution, individual members can still be held accountable and prosecuted according to local laws. However, evidence suggests that this rarely is the case. According to a 1998 policy analysis by the Cato Institute,[2]

"The result has been an epidemic of union-related violence. The National Institute for Labor Relations Research (NILRR) has recorded 8,799 incidents of violence from news reports since [the Enmons ruling]. Those reports show only 258 convictions, suggesting a conviction rate of less than 3 percent. Moreover, local law enforcement authorities often get many more reports of strike violence than journalists can possibly cover."

Some critics argue that the Enmons decision has been a major factor in increasing corruption among union and government officials alike.[3] Economist and former professor Morgan Reynolds wrote:[2]:30

It is difficult to tell racketeer-controlled unions from other unions, because both types depend on violence and the threat of violence…The plain truth is that our labor laws have arranged incentives so that honest, noncoercive union officials find it difficult to survive in competition with the muscleman types."

However, others argue the FUVA has greatly exaggerated the existence of union violence.[citation needed] In a law review article, Julius G. Getman and F. Ray Marshall, The Continuing Assault on the Right to Strike, 79 Tex. L. Rev. 703, 712-13 (2001), law professor Julius Getman and former Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall, analyzed the evidence of union violence.

The claim that strike violence is "escalating" has no empirical basis. Even the study conducted by the National Institute for Labor Relations Research - cited regularly as authority for this proposition by FUVA's proponents - draws no such conclusion. And the study itself is a scholarly monstrosity that seeks to study union violence by compiling media reports, mainly newspaper articles concerning strike violence. The Institute admits that it did not actually investigate any of the incidents reported and does not know if the reports are accurate. It concludes: "Because it relies on news accounts the Institute cannot guarantee the accuracy of the file itself." In fact, articles about employer-instigated violence are included in the study's effort to determine union violence. n59 It seems obvious that the methodology employed confuses those strikes most written about with those most violent. Further, the Institute includes incidents of "psychological violence; i.e., intimidation, coercion and verbal threats" - terms which it does not bother to define. It seems clear, however, that this definition would include nonviolent civil disobedience of the type used by the civil rights movement and increasingly by the labor movement. But whatever the definition, it is almost certain that strike-related violence has decreased since the Enmons decision because the number of strikes has declined significantly

Since 1973, a number of bills have been proposed to overturn US v. Enmons.[citation needed] The Freedom from Union Violence Act (FUVA) was first introduced as H.R. 1796 on June 8, 1995,[4] and has been reintroduced in every Congress since.[5] None of these bills have made it out of committee.[5]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "UNITED STATES, Appellant, v. Travis Paul ENMONS et al". Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 3 May 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Freedom from Union Violence, Cato Institute Policy Analysis no. 316, September 9, 1998 by David Kendrick
  3. ^ [1] - National Right to Work Committee: "Top Ten Special Privelages of Organized Labor"
  4. ^ H.R. 1796: Freedom from Union Violence Act
  5. ^ a b Other Legislation with the Same Title