House Passes Amendment to Block Funding of Sessions Civil Asset Forfeiture Program

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D., Md.) / Getty
• September 12, 2017 5:44 pm


The House of Representatives passed an amendment Tuesday that blocks funding of a controversial program reimplemented by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The amendment, co-sponsored by Reps. Jamie Raskin (D., Md.), Jim Sensenbrenner (R., Wisc.), and John Conyers (D., Mich.), affects the federal government's involvement in the controversial practice known as civil asset forfeiture. Attached to a larger appropriations bill, the amendment passed on a voice vote.

Civil asset forfeiture is a legal procedure by which police can seize property without formally convicting or even charging its owner, based on the suspicion that the property has been involved in illegal activity. The tool was originally conceived of as a way for investigators to cripple criminal gangs, permitting them to seize drugs and cash without arresting their owners.

Critics, however, argue that civil asset forfeiture violates vital Constitutional rights, including guarantees on property and due process rights. Raskin claimed that "civil asset forfeiture incentives [sic] law enforcement to abuse the rule of law."

In July, Sessions reimplemented a pre-existing Department of Justice rule permitting what is known as "federal adoption" of civilly forfeited assets. That program allows state and local police agencies to seek civil asset forfeiture under federal, rather than state law; it is useful to those police offices in jurisdictions which have clamped down on civil asset forfeiture. Under federal adoption, the federal government retains 20 percent of forfeited assets's value, while the other 80 percent are paid back to the state or local police.

Sessions's order superseded that of his predecessor, Obama Attorney General Eric Holder, who essentially shut down the use of federal adoption during his tenure as Attorney General.

Now, if Raskin and co.'s amendment makes it through to the final bill, the Justice Department will be blocked from using any of the funds appropriated to it to run its federal adoption program.

Raskin noted that his bill has the support of more than 20 organizations, both on the left and right.

The Raskin amendment is not the only one to seek to defund federal civil asset forfeiture. Four different amendments have been attached on to H.R. 3354, Reason reports. The other amendments block implementation of Sessions's executive order in other ways, including simply blocking spending on federal adoption by the Justice Department altogether.

Published under: Congress, Jeff Sessions