As Trump’s pick for attorney general marches undaunted into what is sure to be a contentious confirmation hearing, he is weathering all sorts of attacks on his character from the Left, not least the assertion that he is a racist.
I’ll leave it to my colleagues to address that specific charge, but it’s a mistake to resort to identity politics and personal attacks when there are legitimate concerns over policy that directly relate to the work Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. (C, 78%) will do as AG.
Sessions is a former federal prosecutor, and like many in that profession, his views on the justice system are colored by years of hunting bad guys. Prosecutors have an unfortunate tendency to develop a “whatever it takes” policy regarding bringing criminals to justice, which can obscure a clear understanding of the civil liberties productions the Founders enshrined into the Constitution.
In particular, I’m talking about the issue of civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement officers to seize property from those suspected of committing a crime, but who have not yet been tried or convicted of anything. Asset forfeiture is primarily used in cases of drug crime, where money, cars, even houses, are assumed to be ill-gotten, and therefore seized by the government.
Sessions has been a vocal defender of this practice, arguing that it is mostly used against people who have “done nothing in their lives but sell dope.”
There are numerous documented cases in which complete innocents have lost thousands of dollars to government agents who seized first and asked questions later.
You may find it hard to sympathize with drug users, but a cornerstone of American justice has always been “innocent until proven guilty.” When someone’s property is seized in this way, they usually never get it back, even if they are exonerated or never brought to trial.
The Fourth Amendment protects Americans against unreasonable search and seizure and the Fifth Amendment demands that due process be observed. Civil asset forfeiture respects neither of these protections and is tantamount to legalized theft. Nor is it used against only drug dealers or “bad people.” There are numerous documented cases in which complete innocents have lost thousands of dollars to government agents who seized first and asked questions later.
To give just a few examples, a North Carolina convenience store owner had his bank account drained of more than $100,000 because his pattern of deposits was regarded as suspicious; the feds seized $167,000 from an innocent man at a traffic stop and refused to return it; and federal agents seized $16,000 from a 22-year-old heading to California to try to launch a music career.
Under Barack Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch was a strong supporter of asset forfeiture and even rolled back efforts to reform the practice. The Trump administration should not continue the mistakes of Obama, but should instead stand for liberty and justice for all. The role of the attorney general is to uphold the law of the land and ensure that justice is carried out.
There is nothing just or fair, however, about a system that can simply take property from innocent people, who frequently don’t even have a chance to defend themselves. Sessions needs to address his past support for civil asset forfeiture and other policies that concern the rights of the very citizens he will protect.
Let's make it about policy, not sideshows.
Editor's note: The title has been amended to better reflect the content.
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Logan Albright is a researcher for Conservative Review and Director of Research for Free the People. You can follow him on Twitter @loganalbright73.