Holder did right on asset seizure, should turn now to revising Schedule I
Among the most disturbing, even tyrannical, federal programs of the last decades has been what has commonly called “asset seizure” or “asset forfeiture.” It simply means officers of the law can confiscate a private citizen’s property – cash, bank accounts, a car, a boat, a house, whatever – and not return it even if the citizen is innocent of any crime. Conceived as a major weapon in the misbegotten drug war, the practice has done little if anything to eliminate dangerous drugs from society. Rather, it has taken deadly aim at the rights and liberties of ordinary Americans, and it has proven especially harsh on the poorest Americans. It has deeply corrupted too many of our police forces, taking their eyes off best practices and incentivizing them to seize property against the clear meaning of our Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.
Because police departments are allowed to keep these personal assets for themselves, they are enabled to bolster their own budgets outside of proper revenue-raising methods. A convincing history now shows case after case of manufactured arrests – a long trail of what amounts to highway robbery—perpetrated under color of law by those who are supposed to protect innocent citizens, not steal from them. And though victims may sue to get their property back and must show by a preponderance of evidence it was not used in the commission of the crime, the cost of going to court is itself prohibitive. So the innocent must prove their guiltlessness at great cost to themselves.
Office-holders and government officials from both parties have too long allowed this practice to continue, and too many lives have been destroyed because of it. It is therefore my pleasure to commend and salute Atty. Gen. Eric Holder for his announcement last week that the Justice Department would stop sharing all this confiscated property with state and local police. The practice was conducted under the “Equitable Sharing” program, and a more gross misnomer would be hard to imagine. The outgoing attorney general and I have long stood on opposite sides of the issues; indeed, I voted with my colleagues to hold him in contempt of Congress, which stains his legal reputation forever. And yet, I warmly welcome this decision. We share an outrage over this long-festering injustice.
To be sure, it was then-Deputy Atty. Gen. Holder who, in the Clinton administration, worked to enshrine asset seizure as federal policy. So we may see this major reversal of a horrendous policy as redemptive, a move that will rightly help to erase the blots he has accumulated on his reputation. Before he exits the Obama administration, we may hope that he feels liberated to take up another drug-war related mistake, one which has brought tragic consequences to our country as well as to our neighboring countries. That would be to reconsider why marijuana was, back in more naïve political days, added to the Justice Department’s Schedule I of prohibited dangerous drugs. The unintended consequence of marijuana prohibition was to force its cultivation and sale into the black market, which, as we now know, is ruled by the worst elements of humanity. Enforcement has directly and indirectly created the infamous drug cartels and inner-city gangs – not to mention the corruption of our police forces.
I strongly sense that Mr. Holder understands this diabolical, prohibition-created relationship and urge him, consulting his better angels, to work toward removing marijuana from Schedule I and reschedule it at a more appropriate level, or remove it from the scheduling framework altogether. I also predict that a good many of my fellow Republicans, silent now, will applaud his removing this incubus from our lives.