On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed amendments to stop the Department of Justice’s civil asset forfeiture program, which Attorney General Jeff Sessions introduced in July. The amendments received support from those within the House Freedom Caucus and some of the biggest liberals in Congress.

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.

The Amendments

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) introduced an amendment to H.R. 3354, which is a funding bill for government agencies, to stop the DOJ’s latest civil asset forfeiture push.

None of the funds made available by this Act may be used for activities prohibited by the order issued by the Attorney General entitled “Prohibition on Certain Federal Adoptions of Seizures by State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies” (Order No. 3488-2015, dayed January 16, 2015) or the order entitled “Prohibition on Certain Federal Adoptions of Seizures by State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies” (Order No. 3485-2015, dated January 12, 2015).

Amash quickly picked up bipartisan support, including Mark Sanford (R-SC), Raul Labrador (R-ID), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Don Beyer (D-VA), and others for his amendment “that would prohibit the Trump administration from using funds to remove restrictions on the use of asset forfeiture.” From The Hill:

Their amendment would specifically restrict the use of what’s known as “adoptive forfeiture,” which allows the federal government to take assets seized by local authorities.

Critics say that the practice has allowed local authorities to circumvent state laws that were stricter than under federal statute. About two dozen states have laws that make it harder for authorities to seize property if a person has not been convicted of a crime.

“This practice is outrageous. It supplants the authority of states to regulate their own law enforcement and it further mires the federal government in unconstitutional asset forfeitures,” Amash said during House floor debate.

Rep. Jamie Raskins (D-MD), a sponsor of Amash’s amendment, also introduced an amendment to block funding to the DOJ. From Reason:

Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Tim Walberg (R-MI) are asking for a change blocking the Justice Department from funding Sessions’ directive. The department’s forfeiture program existed prior to Sessions’ order, so it’s unclear what effects the amendments would have if passed.

Raskins applauded the passage of the amendments on Twitter and reminded everyone that over 20 organizations from the left and right supports these amendments:


States have taken action to end civil asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions has gone in the opposite direction. In July, he announced that the DOJ hoped to issue “policies to increase forfeitures.” Sessions stated at the time:

While criminal gangs have been growing and are numerous, their numbers are finite. If we target them aggressively, we can reduce homicides and make our communities safer.

In addition, we hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture—especially for drug traffickers. With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures. No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime. Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate as is sharing with our partners.

Sessions has insisted that “civil asset forfeiture is a key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains, and prevent new crimes from being committed, and it weakens the criminals and the cartels.”

Sessions believes these funds that allegedly “were once used to take lives are now being used to save lives.” I use the word allegedly because the people who have had their funds and property seized are only under investigation. No court has convicted them.

Under this new policy, the states and local authorities “provide additional information about the probable cause determination justifying the seizure.”

This unravels the previous policy that former Attorney General Eric Holder implemented to change the DOJ’s forfeiture program. From CBS News:

Holder namely restricted the ability of the federal government to take possession of, or adopt, assets seized by local authorities, who could then share in the proceeds with their federal counterparts. Civil liberties groups and some members of Congress praised the move as a step toward reform because that practice made it easier for local authorities to circumvent state laws that were sometimes stricter than the federal ones governing seizures.


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