House Approves Amendments To Block Civil Asset Forfeiture
An overwhelming majority of House members voted to roll back the government’s ability to implement civil asset forfeiture. In a near unanimous voice vote on Tuesday, both Democrats and Republicans adopted several amendments that block Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ civil asset forfeiture directive.
In July, Sessions announced the Justice Department was undoing restrictions implemented under his predecessor, former Attorney General Eric Holder, in order to allow law enforcement officials to enact stronger procedures of asset forfeiture.
Civil asset forfeiture is a practice through which law enforcement has the ability to confiscate property belonging to people suspected of criminal activity.
The procedure is extremely controversial because individuals who have not been convicted of a crime, or even charged with a crime, can be subjected to asset forfeiture.
Under Sessions’ new policy, local law enforcement could skirt state laws on asset forfeiture in lieu of the more relaxed federal laws. Numerous libertarian and law enforcement watchdog groups were displeased with the new directive and had called on Capitol Hill to rein in the Justice Department’s powers.
Justin Amash, a Republican congressman from Michigan who boasts a libertarian streak, introduced one of the amendments that passed on Tuesday.
Amash’s amendment calls for the pulling of funding for any Justice Department activities that were deemed prohibited by Holder in his 2015 directive.
The measure, which passed by a resounding margin, essentially scales back asset forfeiture powers to the end of Holder’s tenure.
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
Two other amendments addressing asset forfeiture also passed the lower chamber. Reps. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., and Jamie Raskin, D-Md., also successfully pushed for changes in the Justice Department to defund Sessions’ directive. “Under current civil forfeiture law, the system is ripe for abuse and has undermined the constitutional rights of far too many Americans,” said Walberg. “We should not accept a system where the government can seize innocent people’s property without charging them with a crime.”
“Ultimately, this amendment is a starting point and we can’t stop here,” he added. “America was founded on the principles of due process and property rights, and these principles must be vigorously defended.”
Small government advocacy groups championed the Tuesday votes. The Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning legal organization that has fought against asset forfeiture laws in states across the country, hailed the amendments’ passage as a victory.
“Civil forfeiture is one of the greatest threats to private property rights,” said attorney Robert Everett Johnson of the Institute for Justice. “But today, hundreds of members of Congress came together and voted to block an alarming expansion of this government power.”