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I Am No Longer a Racketeer

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | May 09, 2007

After twenty-one years, the infamous NOW v. Scheidler case has been laid to rest. Judge David Coar issued a final ruling in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals dismissing all charges brought by the National Organization of Women in 1986 against Joe Scheidler, director of the Pro-Life Action League.

Joseph M. Scheidler was a pioneer of pro-life direct action and sidewalk counseling. His fearless in-your-face tactics outside abortion clinics quickly earned the ire of the National Organization for Women. NOW joined two abortion clinics in suing Scheidler in 1986 under the Sherman-Clayton anti-trust laws and the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). RICO was intended by Congress to thwart the activities of organized racketeering that stretched across state lines.

Through this long ordeal, Scheidler has been defended by Thomas J. Brejcha of the Thomas More Society Pro-Life Law Center (a non-profit law center in Chicago, not to be confused with the also excellent Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan). Initially, the pro-lifers won in lower courts by arguing that RICO was inapplicable to pro-life activities. On appeal to the Supreme Court, however, NOW won a decision that said Scheidler and his co-defendants could be tried under RICO, and the case was sent back to the lower court. In 1998, Scheidler was found guilty of racketeering.

This time it was Scheidler’s turn to appeal to the Supreme Court which, in 2003, overturned his conviction by a vote of eight to one. Dissatisfied, NOW challenged again in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which thought it saw room in the Supreme Court decision to keep the case alive. On appeal once again, the Supreme Court voted unanimously in February of 2006 to, in effect, instruct the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals that it had no options left. After over a year of further requests for delays on the part of NOW attorneys, finally, on May 8, 2007, all charges were dismissed.

One wonders about damages, but I have seen no reports on whether damages will be sought or awarded. To say that Scheidler was inconvenienced by this legal harassment is a massive understatement. For a certain period of time, even his home was under a pending court confiscation order. Quite apart from actual costs incurred over the course of a generation, if anyone has a case for psychological trauma, it is Joe Scheidler. For the moment, however, Scheidler is savoring his victory: “I’ve waited twenty-one years for this news! I am no longer a federal racketeer!”

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