House Votes to Defund Sessions’ Asset Forfeiture Expansion

In a remarkable bit of bipartisanship, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to defund Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ plans to increase the use of civil asset forfeiture — and they did it unanimously in three amendments to an appropriations bill for the DOJ.

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The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved three amendments late Tuesday that would defund a notorious federal forfeiture program that was recently restored by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions…

Sponsored by Reps. Justin Amash, Tim Walberg, and Jamie Raskin and co-sponsored by Reps. Steve Cohen, Jim Sensenbrenner, and Mark Sanford, the amendments address so-called “adoptive” seizures and forfeitures. Under the federal adoption program, state and local law enforcement can seize property without filing criminal charges, and then transfer the seized property to federal prosecutors for forfeiture under federal law. Local and state agencies can collect up to 80 percent of the forfeiture proceeds.

Adoptive seizures allow state and local law enforcement to circumvent safeguards enacted by state legislatures to protect property owners from civil forfeiture. In January 2015, then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sharply curtailed the practice. However, in July, those limits were repealed by Sessions as part of a new policy directive to “increase forfeitures.”

But as part of a massive appropriations bill (H.R. 3354), which funds the Justice Department and other federal agencies, the newly adopted amendments would cut off funding to carry out the Attorney General’s order reviving adoptive seizures, effective putting a stop to the practice through the next fiscal year. Two dozen organizations from all across the political spectrum, including the Institute for Justice, the American Conservative Union, the ACLU and the NAACP, endorsed the amendment.

The lineup of sponsors is remarkable. Justin Amash is my representative and he’s a Tea Party libertarian (a genuine libertarian, not a right-winger; he stays pretty consistent). Tim Walberg is a conservative Republican. And Jamie Rankin is a liberal Democrat and the only openly atheist member of Congress. He spoke at the Reason Rally last year in DC. And the fact that this passed unanimously is remarkable. Bipartisanship in the cause of justice? It’s like the sun coming out right after a hurricane. Err. Uh…

Now let’s hope the Senate follows suit. This bill will go to the Senate as a package (all spending bills must originate in the House), so unless the Senate deliberately removes those amendments, they should remain in place. And even if they do remove them, the conference committee that would reconcile the two bills could always put them back.

I really sense that things are shifting strongly against asset forfeiture. We’ve seen more than a dozen states pass laws restricting the practice over the past few years and the opposition to the practice is across the board politically. This is a very good thing.

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