Wall Street Journal Blasts Jeff Sessions: ‘He’s Giving Law Enforcement A License To Steal’

"Taking property from citizens who have been convicted of no crime is constitutionally dubious."


Via WSJ’s Editorial Board

In today’s polarized Washington, Jeff Sessions has managed the feat of uniting folks on the left and right. We’re referring to the Attorney General’s decision this week to revive an asset forfeiture program whose overreach proved too much even for the Obama Administration.

Civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement officers to seize property such as homes and cars and cash thought to be paid for or generated by criminal activity. In 2015 then Attorney General Eric Holder restricted the practice. But before an audience of law-enforcement officials on Wednesday, Mr. Sessions revived it as a “key tool” to “hit organized crime in the wallet.” That’s the theory. But it has many problems.

The first is that taking property from citizens who have been convicted of no crime is constitutionally dubious. Mr. Sessions is also reviving a program that allows local law enforcement to seize these assets in conjunction with the feds. This lets them evade the laws in 14 states that bar asset forfeiture absent a criminal conviction. The feds and local cops share the spoils, an obvious incentive for abuse.

Mr. Sessions says he’s added new safeguards to prevent abuse. But Robert Johnson, an Institute for Justice lawyer who specializes in property rights, points out that these mostly come down to “a pledge to be more careful.” For example, Justice says it will now require a “form that state and local law enforcement must fill out,” which will then be reviewed by the department’s lawyers. This is due process?

It’s not even clear this program helps actual law enforcement. In March the Justice Department Inspector General released a report on cash seizures and forfeiture. It focused in particular on the Drug Enforcement Agency, which accounted for 80% of Justice’s cash seizures from 2007 to 2016.

The IG found a fundamental problem. Because Justice has no “seizure-specific metrics” to evaluate how these seizures and forfeitures relate to criminal investigations, no one knows. In a sample of 100 cash seizures, the DEA could verify only 44 that “advanced or were related to criminal investigations.”

In the past decade forfeitures under Justice’s Asset Forfeiture Program have reached $28 billion. We all know what it’s like to be ticketed by a police officer who is doing so as part of a quota designed to raise revenue. But what happens when you give the cop the right to take the car too? This dangerous practice cries out for a slap from the Supreme Court or an override by Congress that for once seems to have bipartisan agreement.


4 comments on “Wall Street Journal Blasts Jeff Sessions: ‘He’s Giving Law Enforcement A License To Steal’

  1. This is another load of crap! The laws around civil forfeiture have been around since the “war on drugs” infancy. They predate AG Jeff Sessions by decades. There were numerous instances of government invoking this abomination under Obama.

    • Anonymous

      Did you miss this sentence….. “In 2015 then Attorney General Eric Holder restricted the practice.”


  2. The words government overreach and abuse in the context of civil forfeiture of property is quite an **understatement**. It’s a longstanding outrage recognized as such often and frequently by various members of the US Supreme Court (to include your very favorite, Clarence Thomas) and those state supreme courts who have set up many protections against the outrages, abuses and what often amounts to government sponsored stealing.

    The property of those who know nothing about the crime can be seized and forfeited. What’s worse than that? The fiction is that the property committed the crime and an in rem proceeding is initiated against the property. Thus the words overreach, outrage and abuse.

    The Montana and New Mexico Supreme Courts forbid civil forfeiture and requires a criminal conviction before property may be forfeited, The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has set up barriers before property can be forfeited in civil forfeiture proceedings (e.g., In a unanimous, 73-page opinion, must prove the owner not only was aware of the illegal activity but also had agreed to it, and that property seizures may violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against excessive fines if the seizure is “grossly disproportional” to the underlying offense).

    Jeff Sessions is like dog with no frontal lobe. He only has one go to tool box: The most aggressive, most threatening, most damaging, and most destructive policies that he came to know in the sixties through the nineties regardless of the fact that all have been rendered useless and destructive.


    Off topic: If Sessions did speak with a Russian ambassador last year on issues central to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, one had to suspect that he would have done it with Trump’s approval. That’s the most important evidentiary inference to be drawn from the leak. The idea that Trump would release this piece of information for investigators to see, in his effort to hurt Sessions while simultaneously supporting charges that a member of Trump’s inner circle was working with the Russian hierarchy, sounds as insane as Trump. No?

  3. S maltophilia

    Constitutionally dubious? My ass!

    From the Fifth Amendment:
    No person shall ….be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…

    What part of that does Secessions not understand? Don’t assholes like him also swear to defend the Constitution?

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