Criminal Justice

The House Passed Justin Amash’s Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Unanimously

Voice votes are usually reserved for amendments and legislation that is expected to received broad bipartisan support. Surprisingly, the method was just used for what was once a controversial subject. Congressman Justin Amash’s civil asset forfeiture reform amendment was passed by unanimous voice vote earlier this week.

In an unexpected move on Tuesday, the House of Representatives adopted an amendment to undo Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ order, and to codify the restrictions placed upon the civil asset forfeiture program during the second Obama administration

The amendment was backed by a bipartisan coalition, but the primary mover was Congressman Justin Amash, the libertarian Republican congressman from Michigan.

Civil asset forfeiture reform will be law for the first time

In 2015, the Obama administration adopted several limits to a program in the realm of civil asset forfeiture known as “equitable sharing.” Under this scheme, state and local law enforcement could have property seizure cases adopted by federal prosecutors.

Then, without conviction or due process of law, the federal government would seize the property, and then give the bulk of its value back to the state and local cops.

Call it a form legalized bribery that deals state and local officials into the worst abuses of the federal criminal justice system.

The system enabled prosecutors and cops across the nation to evade state limits on the increasingly-controversial practice of civil asset forfeiture.

The legal fiction enabled by “equitable sharing” allowed the government to seize property suspected of being tied to a crime, and then place the burden of proof on the owner of the property owner to prove innocence.

Libertarian Republicans like Justin Amash have lead the way

Civil libertarians insist this system is blatantly unconstitutional. Some states have abolished pre-trial civil asset forfeiture altogether, and allow it only after a criminal conviction.

Congressman Justin Amash has been at the forefront of the movement to reform civil asset forfeiture since being elected to Congress.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced that he was reinstating this “equitable sharing” program, which draw rebukes from across the political spectrum. The Republican party didn’t oppose the action.

That tacit support evaporated Tuesday when surprisingly, Justin Amash’s amendment was adopted on a voice vote without objection. Out of the 435 members of the House, not a single one sided with Jeff Sessions when the time came.


(Photo of Congressman Justin Amash by Gage Skidmore, used with permission.)


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