US House Passes Measure Blocking Justice Department’s Resumption of Civil Forfeiture Loophole

Posted on September 19, 2017

A new piece from The Intercept reports that the US House of Representatives by a 211-198 vote has adopted language which would nullify the Department of Justice policy resuming federal civil forfeiture practices under the Equitable Sharing Program. The appropriations bill’s Amendment 126, authored by Republican Justin Amash with support from colleagues of both parties, prohibits distribution of  funds obtained by civil forfeiture to local law enforcement.

Civil forfeiture, or civil asset forfeiture, is the practice by which law enforcement seizes property discovered in a legal search which they reasonably believe would or could be used in a crime, leaving the property’s owner with an immense legal burden to secure its return. As CCDBR outlined in an earlier post, the Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions implemented a policy change which would re-establish the Equitable Sharing Program, by which local law enforcement in jurisdictions where civil forfeiture has been regulated can arbitrarily pass funds derived from civil forfeiture to federal jurisdiction and receive 80% of the supplied funds back from the Justice Department, thereby circumventing local restrictions. 

The amendment effectively abrogates the adoptive forfeiture practice under the Equitable Sharing Program by making it illegal for the Justice Department to transfer civil forfeiture-generated funds to state and local police agencies. 

The new restriction (if adopted) would not be a total fix because the Equitable Sharing Program has still been officially revived, and it is possible that appropriations bills by future Congresses may decline to include such a restrictive measure again. For now, though, the amendment sends a strong, bipartisan message to the Trump administration that enabling (at least some) predatory policing practices will not be tolerated. And as both houses of the Illinois state legislature, by a considerable margin, voted in favor of a measure drastically curtailing civil forfeiture in the state–Governor Bruce Rauner still has yet to sign or veto the bill–this move by the US House goes a long way to preserve the hard-fought reform efforts in Illinois, and other states which have adopted similar measures. 

You can read the full piece from The Intercept here