Amash: “When the government takes people’s property without due process, it’s a violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments”
In a puzzling move, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last month that the Department of Justice would be ramping up asset forfeiture.
Mary wrote at the time:
Civil forfeiture remains a controversial issue in America since it’s “a process by which the government can take and sell your property without ever convicting, or even charging, you with a crime.” The procedures are civil, which means defendants do not receive the same protections given to criminal defendants.
It’s one of the few issues that garners bipartisan support.
That bipartisan support is now even more evident as Congress moves to defund asset forfeiture.
Next week, the House of Representatives will consider an appropriations bill, H.R. 3354, which will authorize spending for the Department of Justice for the upcoming fiscal year. Some members, Republican and Democratic alike, have submitted amendment to the bill that would defund the directive issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to ramp up the use of civil asset forfeiture.
Sessions is a vocal advocate of civil asset forfeiture, the process by which local law enforcement can permanently seize property or money that is suspected to have a connection to a crime. During an April 2015 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, then-Sen. Sessions was less than sympathetic toward a witness, Russ Caswell, whose hotel was wrongly seized when local law enforcement claimed that it had facilitated illicit activity.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are working to cripple Sessions’ asset forfeiture efforts via H. R. 3354.
The Hill continues:
Sessions was criticized for the directive. “Back in May I encouraged the Department of Justice to review its policies on civil asset forfeiture in light of increasing indications from the Supreme Court that this practice is constitutionally suspect,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). “Instead of revising forfeiture practices in a manner to better protect Americans’ due process rights, the DOJ seems determined to lose in court before it changes its policies for the better.”
Similarly, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) noted that adoptive seizures “have created perverse incentives in the past that jeopardized the rights of law abiding citizens.”
Thankfully, four amendments have been submitted to the House Rules Committee for consideration that would defund Sessions’ directive. It’s not clear which amendment if any will be considered when the consolidated appropriations bill, H.R. 3354, reaches the House floor likely late next week.
Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) have submitted separate amendments that would prohibit the Department of Justice from using funds for adoptive seizures. Two bipartisan amendments, one submitted by Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and another by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), would prevent funding from being used to implement Sessions’ directive.
The Amash and Davidson amendments are more comprehensive and are not limited to Sessions’ directive. In fact, these amendments would leave the minor safeguards provided under Sessions’ changes in place. The bipartisan amendments aren’t as comprehensive, although they’re still better than the status quo.
Still, while these amendments are a step in the right direction, Congress will eventually have to settle the concerns over civil asset forfeiture. Legislation has been introduced to increase the standard at the federal level to clear and convincing evidence and provide more protections for property owners who contest a seizure in federal court.
Republican lawmakers see asset forfeiture as a violation of Americans’ rights, and FreedomWorks issued a statement against the questionable practice.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), a vocal critic of asset forfeiture, introduced an amendment that would block the Justice Department from funding any of the activities prohibited by a 2015 directive from former attorney general Eric Holder limiting the program.
“When the government takes people’s property without due process, it’s a violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments—and it’s theft,” Amash says in a statement to Reason. “I’m writing a bill to end civil asset forfeiture throughout the United States. In the meantime, my amendment will prevent state and local law enforcement from teaming up with the federal government to sidestep state laws that restrict these unconstitutional takings.”
. . . . The amendments were first noted by FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group that has opposed civil asset forfeiture.
“Let’s be clear. Congress has to pass comprehensive legislation to reform federal forfeiture laws, which have been abused and will continue to be abused under Attorney General Sessions’ directive,” FreedomWorks vice president of legislative affairs Jason Pye tells Reason. “But an amendment prohibiting the use of funds from being used to carry out adoptive seizures is something that FreedomWorks will wholeheartedly support. It will be a positive step forward to address the issue until a bill like the DUE PROCESS Act, FAIR Act or some other yet to be introduced legislation is passed.”
Sessions, for his part, is focused on the asset forfeiture of “criminal gangs” and “drug traffickers.” Being in a gang or being a drug trafficker, however, does not render one devoid of Constitutional rights, and in this, I think Sessions is misguided. We can’t suspend due process for gangs and traffickers without it affecting, as asset forfeiture so often does, non-criminal Americans.DONATE
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