Justice Clarence Thomas made headlines last month when he criticized civil forfeiture, a notorious police practice that allows law enforcement to confiscate property, even from people who have never been charged with a crime. “This system,” he wrote, “has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses.”
Hearing one of the Supreme Court’s most conservative members denounce such a shameful violation of our civil liberties gives us hope that civil forfeiture can be drastically curtailed.
To prevent future abuses, I, along with Rep. Tim Walberg, reintroduced the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act (FAIR Act) in March. The FAIR Act would dramatically reform federal civil-forfeiture laws to respect the American people’s Fifth Amendment rights while maintaining the ability of courts to order the surrender of proceeds from crime.
During the 1980s, as the war on drugs was ramping up, Congress enacted legislation that made it far easier for the federal government to seize cash, cars, and even real estate.
Worst of all, Congress created powerful financial incentives to pursue civil-forfeiture cases.
Once a property is forfeited, federal agencies can auction it off and collect up to 100 percent of the proceeds or retain it for their own use; previously, forfeiture proceeds were directed to the Treasury’s General Fund.
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