Adrian Daily Telegram: Amendment aims to end some federal civil forfeitures
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, was joined by two Democrats to make a stand against U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ call to expand the controversial law enforcement tactic of civil forfeitures.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Sept. 14 that appropriated funds to a number of federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice. Included in the bill was an amendment drafted by Walberg that prevents any funds appropriated to the Department of Justice to be used to conduct adoptive civil asset forfeitures — the seizing of property by law enforcement agencies that is believed to have aided or gained through criminal activity.
Walberg introduced the amendment on the House floor during a Sept. 12 debate on the legislation.
“In recent years, we have seen a growing number of instances where the government has confiscated private property from citizens and small businesses without any criminal conviction, or even criminal charges,” Walberg said. “Under the civil forfeiture law, the system is ripe for abuse and has undermined the constitutional rights of far too many Americans.”
Walberg cited a politically diverse coalition of organizations supporting his amendment, which included the American Conservative Union, the Institute for Justice, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union.
“We should not accept a system where the government can seize innocent people’s property without charging them with a crime,” Walberg said, adding that Congress should pass a separate, comprehensive bill on civil forfeitures, like the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act, which he introduced March 15.
In support of his amendment, Walberg was joined by U.S. Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. and Keith Ellison, D-Minn. U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., also co-sponsored the amendment.
“I think criminal asset forfeiture is one of the worst, most heinous, most despicable, and most vile laws that we have ever put on the books,” Cohen said. “It is an assault on human beings and state governments on state sovereignty and on individuals having a right to their property and having a right to a hearing and being found guilty of something before their property is taken. The way it is today, the government can come in — and they don’t even have to charge you with a crime — and they can take your car or your money or whatever else they find. It is as un-American a thing as has ever existed. ... There are many times I have found that you get 360 degrees where the liberals and the conservatives come together and agree on libertarian principles that something needs to happen. When you have got Rand Paul, Keith Ellison, Mr. Walberg, and myself all on the same thing, this needs to happen. So we need to pass it now.”
Twenty-four states, including the District of Columbia, have adopted laws limiting civil forfeiture, but adoptive forfeiture allows agencies to circumvent these laws by having federal agencies accept property seized by state and local law enforcement, forfeiting it under federal law and giving a cut of the proceeds back to the agency.
Sessions’ order also revoked a federal ban on adoptive forfeitures placed on the Justice Department in 2015 for cases in which there was no federal government involvement.
Another amendment targeting this rollback was presented by U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, on the same day as Walberg’s amendment and also was passed. Another amendment, nearly identical to Walberg’s, was introduced and passed by U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., with support from U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit.
The bill has been sent to the Senate for consideration.
“The ball is in the Senate’s court at this point but we would hope to see them take it up,” Dan Kotman, Walberg’s spokesman, said. “Eventually, we hope to move the larger legislation as well because we think that’s important. This showed that the concept deserves attention and that there’s strong bipartisan support. So we hope that eventually we’ll get to move the FAIR Act forward as well.”
This article originally appeared in the October 10 edition of the Adrian Daily Telegram.