Jeff Sessions Loves Asset Forfeiture. Will Congress Grill Him at His Confirmation Hearing?

Trump's nominee for Attorney General is at odds with many of his GOP colleagues on asset forfeiture and a host of other criminal justice issues.


Dan Anderson/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions is expected to face a barrage of critical questions from Democrats Tuesday and Wednesday during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but his Republican colleagues could just as well lob a few bombs at him over his big-government stance on asset forfeiture and criminal justice reform.

Sessions, an Alabama senator and former member of the Judiciary Committee, will now be sitting across from many of his colleagues. Democrats will likely focus much of their fire on Sessions' failed appointment to the federal judiciary in the '80s, which collapsed under accusations of racism from his days as a federal prosecutor.

However, Sessions is also at stark odds with several of his former Judiciary Committee Republican colleagues on civil asset forfeiture reform and efforts to roll back mandatory minimum sentencing laws, including Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Texas senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

Sessions has been a staunch supporter of civil asset forfeiture, which allows police to seize property suspected of being connected to drug and other crimes, without convicting or sometimes even charging the property owner. Civil liberties groups say civil asset forfeiture lacks due process protections for property owners—who may have their cash, cars, and even houses seized—and creates perverse profit incentives for police.

At a 2015 Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, Sessions said 95 percent of asset forfeiture cases involve people "who have done nothing in their lives but sell dope." In addition to being unhinged from reality, the comment reveals much about Sessions' antediluvian views on the drug war—he's a drug war dinosaur, as Reason's Jacob Sullum explained. For example, Sessions claimed in a 2016 Judiciary Committee hearing that "good people don't smoke marijuana."

Sessions was also one of a handful of GOP senators whose vocal opposition scuttled a bipartisan sentencing reform bill in 2016—widely considered the best chance in years to get a major criminal justice bill through Congress.

A Brennan Center for Justice analysis of Sessions' record, published last week, said that "as Attorney General, he could stall or reverse recent federal efforts, and disrupt nationwide momentum on the issue" of criminal justice reform.

"Sen. Sessions appears to subscribe to outdated ideas about criminal justice policy that conservatives, progressives, and law enforcement have come to agree do not help reduce crime and unnecessarily increase the prison population," the Brennan Center continued. "His views place him at odds with top Republicans and the current cross-partisan movement to reform the justice system."

The conservative commentariat has been less than enthusiastic about Sessions' nomination to lead the Justice Department. National Review's Michael Tanner wrote last week that "red flags in Sessions's record that should worry those who believe in limited government and individual liberty," noting his opposition to criminal justice reform bills, his fondness for civil asset forfeiture, his reflexive defense of police from federal civil rights oversight, his embrace of the drug war, and his regressive stance on marijuana legalization.

"His opposition to state legalization measures promises to put the Justice Department in conflict with conservative principles of federalism," Tanner continued.

The noted dopers at National Review were joined by arch-hippie George Will, who wrote in a December Washington Post column that Sessions should be questioned about his support for civil asset forfeiture. Will highlighted the case of Christos and Markela Sourovelis, whose house was seized by the city of Philadelphia after their son was caught selling $40-worth of drugs outside.

(Will links to my 2014 story on Philadelphia's infamous asset forfeiture court in his opening sentence. I travelled up to Philly to observe the court proceedings first-hand and interviewed several people who'd had their cars seized for misdemeanor crimes, or in some cases, no crimes at all.)

In addition to all this, Sessions has rarely, if ever, found an instance where he believed prosecutors had too much power. In an L.A. Times op-ed last week, Mark Oppenheimer wrote that Sessions has also been a consistent opponent of attempts to rein in prosecutorial misconduct. "Sessions identifies exclusively with prosecutors," he wrote. "I couldn't find a single example of Sessions stating in public that a prosecutor was too zealous, or that a defendant needed more vigorous representation. For Trump's intended attorney general, the arc of justice always bends toward the state."

In a rare move, the American Civil Liberties Union will testify at tomorrow's confirmation hearings, presumably not to laud Sessions. Democrats are also pressing Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley to allow Congressional Black Caucus members testify as well.

Buckle up, buckaroos. This one's gonna be a doozy.

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  1. Jeff Sessions Loves Asset Forfeiture. Will Congress Grill Him at His Confirmation Hearing?

    its going to be 100% about “racism”. There won’t be any room for discussion about his genuine horrible-legal-opinions.

    1. If left to the Democrats, exactly that. So he’ll fly through the process and be appointed.

    2. Mike Lee is on the committee, so he could very well ask real questions.

  2. Did any of them give a good goddamn about his predecessor’s history of taking shit that wasn’t the state’s?

    1. Just those of his immediate predecessor? It’s all of them, actually…

    2. No, because they weren’t racist.

  3. I’m guessing no.

  4. OT

    Hearing Protection Act introduced to move suppressors off NFA. Trump Jr. takes an interest. fuck yeah. gun safety legislation that will actually make guns safer.

    But gun-control activists say silencers are getting quieter, particularly in combination with subsonic ammunition, which is less lethal but still damaging. They point to videos on YouTube in which silencers make high-powered rifles have “no more sound than a pellet gun,” according to one demonstrator showing off a silenced semiautomatic .22LR.

    1. To be fair, a .22 is high-powered compared to a pellet gun. Like a Trabant is a high-powered vehicle compared to a pogo stick.

    2. WTF is “less lethal”? Sort of pregnant?

      It’s like a Monty Python skit or something? “I’m getting better.”

      1. “less lethal” as in that 220gr 300BLK subsonic round will not damn your soul to Hell like its 100gr supersonic counterpart.

      2. “less lethal” is pretty simple. “Not as likely to kill”. Generally, you need to supply (or imply) what you’re comparing them to. In this case, subsonic ammunition is “less lethal” compared to traditional rounds.

        1. From what I understand, more people have been murdered with the lowly .22 than any other round. Sure, if I got to pick what I got shot with it would be at the top of the list. Besides, sub-sonic ammunition and “high-powered” don’t equate.

      3. Nearly dead…!

        1. +1 Holy Grail

    3. I have the strangest erection right now.

  5. Why should they grill him? They’re the legislators. His opinion isn’t even relevant.

  6. My first question would be regarding the cell phone on the belt.

  7. ” For example, Sessions claimed in a 2016 Judiciary Committee hearing that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

    Maybe he’s evolved?

    I mean, come on, look at this guy. He looks like a fucking lawn gnome. Everyone knows that lawn gnomes… umm, well, he’s a dinosaur for sure. Not sure what Trump was thinking on that one. Not thinking comes to mind.

      1. He does. He must be the mini-me of that guy.

    1. The AG is a dumping ground for loyalists, and Sessions was the first notable Republican to climb aboard the Trump Train. There was no doubt he would rewarded with a high level cabinet job.

    2. good people don’t smoke marijuana.

      Even were that true, the existence of Jeff Sessions is proof that you can avoid smoking pot and still be shit stain on humanity.

  8. We are going down the same road as the previous 3 presidents. Massive government will be the order of the day.

    It is just the republicans’ turn for 8 years.

    It is hilarious and sad that one of trumps 5 major points of getting elected was drain the swamp – i.e. put an end to the cozy relationship between business and government.

    So far, he has inserted himself into the business of 4 automakers and one ball bearing manufacturer. So much so that their stock prices dipped on a tweet.

    The fact that he can have influence and is not even in office is ample evidence that he and his appointees are going to be more of the same collusion and corruption.
    Hopefully the guy that comes after trump won’t be Castro.

    1. When you hear politicians talk about draining swamps, what that means is that it’s their turn at the pillage and plunder, because they won you know. The other guys have to wait their turn again to get a shot at what’s left. Eventually, there will be nothing left to loot and then it will all fall down. But they aren’t going to stop themselves. When Obama said that Washington DC cannot be changed from the inside, it’s one of the few times he actually spoke the truth. It can’t be because there is on one on in the inside willing to change it. Why should they, when it’s all so lucrative for them?

  9. Will Congress Grill Him at His Confirmation Hearing?

    Magic 8 Ball says “highly unlikely”.

    This guy as AG. Jeezus baby christ on a cracker. Gonna be worse than whatisface. The one that didn’t want to look at boobies on a justice statue.

    1. You mean politician who did the most to oppose the implementation of the patriot act John Ashcroft?

      But who gives a shit about that? And libertarians wonder why the libertarians only care about underage sex, porn, and weed line sticks son well.

      1. *expansion not implementation

      2. Are you seriously making Ashcroft out to be some crusader for civil liberties who is above criticism? Your butthurt over criticism of him makes you look way worse than the people you’re criticizing for criticizing him.

        1. “Are you seriously making Ashcroft out to be some crusader for civil liberties who is above criticism? ”

          What are you? Some kind of fucking SJW who can tell what people *really* mean by what they say? He said:

          “You mean the politician who did the most to oppose implementation of the patriot act John Ashcroft?”

          That’s pretty clear cut. Doesn’t say any more than what it says, unlike your exaggerated “interpretation” of it. The degree to which it is claimed he was a “crusader for civil liberties” is limited to the fact that he opposed expansion of the Patriot Act (a good thing). Then the “above criticism” comment is just total dishonest bullshit worthy of a fucking progtard. The equivalent comment directed at you would be “Why do you ridicule anyone who would limit buttfucking and coprophilia in schools and grocery stores?” But that would be bullshit, wouldn’t it? Exactly as it was in your comment.

          Just sayin’…

  10. “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

    Ah, yes, Sessions is invoking the “making people be good” clause of the Constitution.

    It’s the job of the public to enforce virtue on their representatives, not vice versa.

  11. I’m no political expert – I thought Hillary would win – but I can’t see the Republicans breaking ranks over a nominee for some matter like asset forfeiture.

    They’ll simply say, oh well, it must be OK because Democrats do it, too – and the opponents of asset forfeiture will be good team players and vote to confirm.

    Why should an intra-Republican policy difference which only affects the little people be allowed to block a colleague’s promotion to AG?

    1. ‘little people’ being the keywords. Laws don’t apply to them, so why should they care?

  12. Confident prediction:

    The Repubs will administer a soothing ball massage.

    The Dems will flail around screeching “Racist, because Alabammy!”

    He will be confirmed.

    1. “Here is a picture of an adorable little girl. Please tell the Committee what steps you will take to protect her from the scourge of drugs. Do you think that politically-correct blather about due process is interfering with this important national effort?”

    2. Can’t we even hope a little?

      I’m not one to get hysterical about what are mostly stylistic affronts emanating from Trump, and consider his election an ill-considered if understandable yuge orange middle finger directed at a self-appointed elite.

      That said, the appointment of Sessions for AG is an absolute worst-case scenario. Sessions’ comments about civil asset forfeiture (or, more accurately, “random spontaneous law enforcement tax surcharge collections”) are perhaps the most “divorced from reality” on any subject I have ever heard. Not just from politicians, but anywhere. And I’ve read YouTube comment threads!

      Surely it will be a test of Trumps’ own ability to do simple political calculations. Cops only have so much political power. Their victims, and the tens of millions of American citizens who obviously WANT THEIR DAMN DRUGS have many multiples of that power. If Trump reconsiders this appointment, or allows it to fail without doubling down or investing much political capital in pushing it, that will be a welcome sign, of, at least, a degree of pragmatism and rationality.

      IF, otoh, he really thinks Sessions should be AG…well, it will mean some of the hysterically-expressed fears of the Trump administration were justified. The silver lining would be the increased likelihood of a single-term Presidency.

      (or I’m just an idiot optimist. shit.)

  13. IIRC, McConnel has refused to postpone confirmation hearings pending background checks for Trump’s picks that have major questions, so I’m not sure why anyone could sincerely expect him to treat this sort of thing as even a speed bump for someone that is a former colleague.

  14. No. They won’t grill him over this. They will grill him over a bunch of bullshit charges that he is racist. Remember, Trump’s opponents will always choose the stupid and untrue argument even when there is a truthful and effective one available.

  15. Speaking of forfeiture, IJ just posted this summary of the Burma Christian rock band case.

  16. Progs have finally noticed that Jeff Sessions is going to have a confirmation hearing tomorrow. Top on their list of why they don’t like him? He tried to keep an LGBTQetc conference from happening at UA back in 1996.

    1. It’s ridiculous. But then again, lefties don’t care about poor folk. The kind of poor folk that get their cash stolen by the beloved, infallible State.

  17. As much as I’d like to see it, I think Sessions gets confirmed easily. His long time in the Senate pretty much guarantees him the vote of almost every Republican senator, and enough to Democrats to clear 60 easily IMO. Sessions has already gotten confirmed support from many of the anti-Trump or Trump-skeptical Republican senators, such as Flake, Graham, Collins, and Lee, as well as some Democrats.

    1. *by “see it” I mean Sessions getting rejected.

      1. I don’t think Mike Lee’s gonna go easy on Sessions. Especially if his constituents are expecting him to stand up for criminal justice reform. If this is a cakewalk for Sessions without any hardball questions, this nation is doomed (or at least things are really gonna suck for 4-8 years).

    2. Goddamnit.

  18. What was he so happy about in that photo? Did some 13 yo get the death penalty for drug possession?

    1. He’s making America great again. Don’t you feel it becoming greater with each passing day?

      1. Don’t you feel it becoming greater with each passing day?

        Is that what it is? I would have sworn it was an anal polyp.

        1. Wait until you see what happens next!

    2. “What was he so happy about in that photo?”

      Probably not a hash suppository, I’m guessing.

  19. RE: Jeff Sessions Loves Asset Forfeiture. Will Congress Grill Him at His Confirmation Hearing?
    Trump’s nominee for Attorney General is at odds with many of his GOP colleagues on asset forfeiture and a host of other criminal justice issues.

    You can’t have big government unless its allowed to confiscate the little peoples’ property in an unjust manner.
    Bureaucrats, politicians and their cronies can’t live on love alone.

  20. +1 electric chair booster seat

  21. Sessions sounds like a communist with his support for the un Constitutional war on drugs and asset forfeiture.

  22. he’s a senator. a member of the club. they don’t eat their own even when they’re hungry.

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  29. How many supporters of Senator Sessions are aware of his stated thoughts and opinions on Asset Forfeiture, aka Civil Asset Forfeiture or what I personally describe as Theft Under Color of Law? Re those unaware of Session’s position, ignorance might be excusable, self inflicted ignorance isn’t. Search Sessions on Asset Forfeiture. All sorts of interesting, informative data to be found there. While ignorance is perhaps forgivable, the wounds of self inflicted ignorance aren’t, nor is there any excuse therefore.

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