Asset Forfeiture

Senators Push To Defund Jeff Sessions' Civil Asset Forfeiture Expansion

The House passed amendments this fall blocking Jeff Sessions' asset forfeiture directive. Now senators want to make it stick.

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Sen. Mike Lee is one of the lawmakers pushing to defund Jeff Sessions' asset forfeiture expansion // Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

A bipartisan group of senators wants to defund Attorney General Jeff Sessions' expansion of the Justice Department's civil asset forfeiture program, following similar efforts by libertarian-leaning and progressive members of the House earlier this year.

Sessions announced in July that he was scrapping a 2015 directive by former Attorney General Eric Holder that severely curtailed when federal authorities could "adopt" asset forfeiture cases from local and state authorities. Such adoptions, civil rights group said, allowed local police to skirt stricter state forfeiture laws by taking their cases to federal court.

In September, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed several amendments to a large appropriations bill that would prohibit the Justice Department from using any funds to enact Sessions' directive, essentially using Congress' power of the purse to block it from going into effect.

In a letter to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), one of the lawmakers hammering out the difference between the House and Senate versions of the appropriations bill, Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Angus King (I-Vt.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) pushed to include at least one of the amendments in the final version.

"Adoptive forfeiture and equitable sharing are particularly egregious elements of civil asset forfeiture because they not only violate due process but also attack principles of federalism," the senators wrote. "DOJ's reinstated policy allows state law enforcement officers to circumvent state limitations on civil forfeiture by turning seized property over to federal officials for forfeiture in exchange for up to 80 percent of the proceeds of the property. This perversely incentivizes local law enforcement to confiscate suspect property even where state laws forbid the practice."

Shelby's office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Asset forfeiture—a practice that allows police to seize property suspected of being connected to criminal activity, even when the owner is not charged with a crime—has come under criticism in recent years from lawmakers and advocacy groups across the political spectrum.

Police groups and prosecutors, as well as law-and-order conservatives like Sessions, argue it is an essential tool to disrupt organized crime by cutting off illicit proceeds. Civil liberties advocates say it leaves far too few protections for property owners and creates perverse profit incentives for law enforcement.

A Reason investigation earlier this year showed asset forfeiture in Chicago primarily hit the city's poor, minority neighborhoods. An investigation by the Nevada Policy Research Institute in Las Vegas had similar findings.

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16 responses to “Senators Push To Defund Jeff Sessions' Civil Asset Forfeiture Expansion

  1. following similar efforts by libertarian-leaning

    I’m for it.

    and progressive members of the House earlier this year.

    I’M AGAINST IT

    1. Glad to finally see a principled stand.

      1. Principaled stand.

        1. I stand with Crapo.

  2. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    So how can you take stuff without even an arrest, let alone a conviction, and NOT be violating this?

      1. Shouldn’t that be FYTH?

    1. That has been my same question/thought for 20 years now. All arguments are invalid against that protection. And yet here we sit, rights seem to have become hollow words for the last 100 years, something to discuss to keep freedom minded voters throwing votes towards the rhetoric that we the people really matter.

    2. By magically giving inanimate objects the power to have their day in court, that’s how. Fuck “in rem jurisdiction”.

    3. The key phrase is “but on probable cause”, which is the standard for making an arrest – not a particularly hard one to reach.
      Congress could strengthen it with legislation requiring individual due process be that standard – i.e. a conviction – and proof that the property seized was obtained through criminal means, for all jurisdictions.
      It would probably pass federalism scrutiny.
      But they won’t.

  3. We either have a Fourth Amendment or we don’t…

  4. Well we do, but the commerce clause invalidates the rest of the constitution. Or something like that.

  5. What part of the Constitution would allow for “asset forfiture”? I am unclear where the ability to steal money or property comes from for the government. Perhaps it is the 16th Amendment that allows this. Although the ratification process for this Amendment is questionable, the 16th Amendment certainly has allowed the government to steal money and property from all citizens.

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