House Passes Amendment Defunding Sessions' Criminal Asset Forfeiture Proposal
On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment, sponsored by Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), and John Conyers (D-MI), blocking funding for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ proposed reinstatement of civil asset forfeiture, a controversial procedure used by law enforcement agencies to seize the belongings of those accused of a crime.
The power was greatly lessened during President Barack Obama’s term, having been widely opposed by a bipartisan chorus of voices concerned that the seizure of property often impacted citizens who were ultimately never charged or convicted.
According to the Washington Post, “Since 2007…the DEA has seized more than $4 billion in cash from people suspected of involvement with the drug trade. But 81 percent of those seizures, totaling $3.2 billion, were conducted administratively, meaning no civil or criminal charges were brought against the owners of the cash and no judicial review of the seizures ever occurred.”
Tuesday’s amendment was a rare display of overwhelming bipartisanship on a contentious issue, passing by voice vote on the strength of the support of at least two dozen ideologically diverse groups, including the ACLU, the NAACP, the Institute for Justice, the R Street Institute, the Goldwater Institute, and Americans for Prosperity, among others.
Some law enforcement groups who supported reinstatement of the power were disappointed by the House’s votes.
Nathan R. Catura, National President for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said in a statement, “Taking away the ability of the government to use drug cartel profits to fight crime defies logic! Because of budget cuts, agencies have been forced to rely on asset forfeiture to purchase necessary tools like vehicles, equipment, bulletproof vests and training. In fact, some departments are using the same drug related profits that took lives to buy Narcan to reverse overdoses and save lives!”
While the amendment defunding the program was likely the most impactful civil asset forfeiture measure considered, it was one of three successful amendments seeking to scale back the procedure. The amendments are included in an appropriations bill funding the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other related agencies. The amended appropriations package has not yet received a vote in the House.
ThinkProgress points out that the amendments’ ultimate enactment is not-yet-guaranteed, as “Senate Republicans could still strip it out in deference to Sessions. If it reaches President Donald Trump’s desk intact, he could try to craft a signing statement that would still give Sessions a thumbs-up to proceed,” also pointing out that the broad-based support for scaling back the power – including support from Trump allies such as the Koch Brothers and the House Freedom Caucus – will make such maneuverings more difficult and potentially politically costly.
Posted in General News