It’s about time this took place! In an overwhelming majority, House representatives approved three amendments that sought to block the unconstitutional asset forfeiture directive of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
While that part is good, the amendments were tied to another big spending bill.
First, if you recall, back in July, I reported on Sessions continued violation of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution and the biblical command to not steal that was also violated by his predecessor Loretta Lynch.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. – Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution
You shall not steal. – The Eighth Commandment
Sadly, even President Donald Trump, a man who stood with his hand on the Bible and took an oath not to engage in this behavior because it would not protect and defend the Constitution, supports it.
Not only that, but the US Supreme Court upholds this as constitutional when it could not be clearer that it is a violation of the rights of the accused.
Sessions’ July order was met with outrage from not just Democrats, but also several Republican lawmakers who have opposed the practice. As Reasonpreviously reported, Republican and Democrat members introduced amendments in August to try and use Congress’ power of the purse to block the Justice Department from being able to spend any funds on implementing Sessions’ order:
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[…]
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.
The House approved Amash, Raskin and Walberg’s amendments, which also had bipartisan cosponsors, by a nearly unanimous voice vote Tuesday.
“Under current civil forfeiture law, the system is ripe for abuse and has undermined the constitutional rights of far too many Americans,” Walberg said in a statement. “We should not accept a system where the government can seize innocent people’s property without charging them with a crime.”
I don't like voice votes, but at least this time it was to adopt my amendment to rein in civil asset forfeiture! Thanks to the cosponsors! 💯 https://t.co/NUGVAcNkpM
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) September 12, 2017
Indeed, people are innocent until proven guilty, and that is what the Fifth Amendment is supposed to be protecting.
“Civil forfeiture is one of the greatest threats to private property rights,” said Institute for Justice attorney Robert Everett Johnson. “But today, hundreds of members of Congress came together and voted to block an alarming expansion of this government power.”
Attorney John Whitehead with the Rutherford Institute explains how civil asset forfeiture works concerning cash.
“First, government agents (usually the police) use a broad array of tactics to profile, identify, target and arrange to encounter (in a traffic stop, on a train, in an airport, in public, or on private property) those individuals who might be traveling with a significant amount of cash or possess property of value,” Whitehead writes. “Second, these government agents—empowered by the courts and the legislatures—seize private property (cash, jewelry, cars, homes and other valuables) they “suspect” may be connected to criminal activity.”
“Then—and here’s the kicker—whether or not any crime is actually proven to have taken place, without any charges being levied against the property owner, or any real due process afforded the unlucky victim, the property is forfeited to the government, which often divvies it up with the local police who helped with the initial seizure,” he adds.
“It’s a new, twisted form of guilt by association,” continues Whitehead. “Only it’s not the citizenry being accused of wrongdoing, just their money. What this adds up to is a paradigm in which Americans no longer have to be guilty to be stripped of their property, rights and liberties. All you have to be is in possession of something the government wants.”
Former Texas congressman Ron Paul said the Sessions was endorsing theft, and he’s right.
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently ordered the Justice Department to increase the use of civil asset forfeiture, thus once again endorsing an unconstitutional, authoritarian, and increasingly unpopular policy,” wrote Paul. “Civil asset forfeiture, which should be called civil asset theft, is the practice of seizing property believed to be involved in a crime. The government keeps the property even if it never convicts, or even charges, the owner of the property.”
“Police can even use civil asset theft to steal from people whose property was used in criminal activity without the owners’ knowledge,” he added. “Some have even lost their homes because a renter or houseguest was dealing drugs on the premises behind the owners’ backs.”
Civil asset theft is a multi-billion dollar a year moneymaker for all levels of government. Police and prosecutors receive more than their “fair share” of the loot,” he continued. “According to a 2016 study by the Institute for Justice, 43 states allow police and prosecutors to keep at least half of the loot they got from civil asset theft.
Obviously, this gives police an incentive to aggressively use civil asset theft, even against those who are not even tangentially involved in a crime.
“In a rebuke to the Justice Department, the House voted today to stand for civil liberties, and curb the federal government’s ability to take a person’s property without due process of law,” said Holly Harris, the TKTKT of the Justice Action Network, a bipartisan criminal justice advocacy group. “It’s astonishing that, here in America, someone’s property can be forfeited even when that person has never been charged with a crime.”
While it’s fine that these guys wanted to write amendments to a spending bill to address the issue, all they really had to do was start proceedings to impeach Sessions based on his clear violation of the Fifth Amendment and then prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law.
That, would have been the constitutional thing to do.