Bipartisanship: We’ll take what we can get

Posted on Posted in Editorials

The Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal released the following account of bipartisan work the likes of which hasn’t been seen in quite a long while.

“Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently provoked bipartisan opposition when he revived a civil asset-forfeiture program that had been restricted by his predecessor, Eric Holder. Last week a bipartisan coalition brushed Mr. Sessions back with amendments to the annual appropriations package working its way through the House.

The program allows local and federal law enforcement to take property from people who haven’t been convicted of any crime—and then share in the spoils. In theory, civil asset forfeiture ensures that crime doesn’t pay by allowing law enforcement to seize homes, cars and cash thought to be paid for or generated by illegal activity. That’s why Mr. Sessions calls it a “key tool” against organized crime.

In practice, it means property can be taken from people without due process or criminal culpability. A March report from Justice’s Inspector General noted that the department doesn’t even have a way to measure if these seizures are advancing criminal investigations. In short, it invites abuse.

 Last week House members passed, by voice vote, five forfeiture amendments that showed their displeasure. An amendment by Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) redirects $10 million in funding for Justice’s asset forfeiture to a program designed to help local governments reduce the backlog of unprocessed rape kits. A Peter Roskam (R., Ill.) amendment bars bonuses for certain Justice employees until they decide on a backlog of 255 asset forfeiture cases referred by the IRS.

Three other amendments target the “adoptive forfeiture” aspect of the program, which allows local law enforcement to make end runs around state prohibitions by working with the feds. Three separate amendments—from Jamie Raskin (D., Md.), Tim Walberg (R., Mich.) and Justin Amash (R., Mich.)—limit the funding Mr. Sessions can use to implement his program.

Though Congress will have to pass a separate law to make these restrictions permanent, these are a victory for property rights and due process. Who says Washington is so polarized that Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on anything?” (September 17 edition, “Reining in Mr. Sessions”)

Admittedly, instead of playing musical amendments, a swifter, cleaner solution would be to pass a single amendment declaring that property cannot be seized by law enforcement without due process (I believe that concept might already be noted somewhere but who’s counting). 

Nevertheless, bipartisan efforts to defend civilian property rights against unjust seizure is a welcome advance indeed.