Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, has been the single worst AG in American history. His every move has been about politics, not justice, he has abused his position of authority to punish Obama’s political enemies and has forcefully advanced an extremist left-wing agenda. But finally, as he has one foot out the door, Eric Holder has done something right. He’s put an end to local police using federal law to seize property.
The single biggest misdeed perpetrated by police forces across the nation has been the outright theft under color of law of the property of citizens cops claim are suspects in some crime, real or imaginary. This law is entirely un-American as it declares all suspects guilty before a trial is even scheduled.
The civil asset forfeiture program called Equitable Sharing was initially meant as a way to instantly seize the assets and property of drug dealers to prevent them from shifting or hiding drug income from investigators as any arrest wound its way slowly through the criminal justice system.
But, this sweeping power proved to be too much of a temptation for agencies that hungered for money in an era when politicians have been cutting budgets from coast to coast.
Cops began invoking the law to confiscate cars, bank accounts, homes and other property from just any suspect, quite regardless of whether or not they stood accused of being involved in the drug trade. Often even regardless of whether or not the suspects had even broken any laws.
Worse, once stolen by police, these properties, money, and other assets are simply gone, gone, gone. Even if the suspect was eventually proven innocent what ever the cops stole was unrecoverable. It is essentially a punishment meted out even if there is no guilt.
The Washington Post reported that since 2008, “police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion.”
“The program,” the Post wrote, “allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of the adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.”
Now, Holder’s Department of Justice has decided to prevent local police from using the law to confiscate suspect’s property.
“With this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons,” the DOJ said in a statement.
The move will eliminate most cash and vehicle seizures.
A Justice Dept. official said Holder “also believes that the new policy will eliminate any possibility that the adoption process might unintentionally incentivize unnecessary stops and seizures.”
Finally. After six years of abusing his office, Eric Holder did something right.
Good for him and good for us.
As more time has passed since the release of the DOJ’s ruling, some have had more time to look into the issue and it appears that Holder’s change will only affect 14 percent of the asset theft by local authorities.
Here is how Jacob Sullum of Reason.com summed up the DOJ’s changes:
I initially got caught up in the excitement too. But the closer I looked, the less there was to the new policy. I do not mean to imply that it won’t accomplish anything worthwhile. Even eliminating 14 percent of the Equitable Sharing Program is a welcome step, although 100 percent (as recommended by four members of Congress, including three conservative Republicans, in a recent letter to Holder) would have been better. Holder’s change surely will prevent some injustices. But it is important to recognize that he is talking about a small piece of equitable sharing and an even smaller piece of all federal forfeitures, which of course do not include forfeitures carried out under state laws (over which Holder has no authority). More-ambitious reform will require action by Congress and by state legislators.
So, while some change in this area is good, it wasn’t quite as monumental as originally sold.
Still, if a curtailment of asset seizure laws is the direction of the future, that is a good thing. Hopefully this baby step will lead to more.