On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice will ramp up civil asset forfeiture, the practice that lets police confiscate innocent people’s property and money as long as they can come up with a flimsy excuse that either were being used in the commission of a crime.
“We hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture—especially for drug traffickers,” Sessions said. “With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures. No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime. Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate as is sharing with our partners.”
People don’t have to be convicted or even charged with a specific crime in order for officers to confiscate their personal possessions and cash. Police departments have exercised this power with all the restraint and prudence you’d expect from American law enforcement: Civil asset forfeiture is routinely abused by police departments nationwide, many of which have come to rely on it for funding.
Libertarians and even some members of the right have turned against the practice. As a study by the libertarian think tank Institute For Justice argues, “civil forfeiture encourages policing for profit,” and even in jurisdictions where laws prohibit using seized money and property to fund police departments, federal laws allow departments to sidestep local rules restricting forfeiture.
Sessions’s move to expand forfeiture is just the latest in Sessions’ effort to reinvigorate the failed War on Drugs. In May, Sessions released a memo directing federal prosecutors to charge suspects with “the most serious, readily provable offense,” thereby reinstating the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines the Obama administration sought to eliminate. These measures will almost certainly used as a cudgel to lock up even more black and brown men for low-level drug offenses.
During Jeff Sessions’ Senate confirmation hearing, Sen. Rand Paul accused Democrats of “trying to destroy his character” by... reading a letter Coretta Scott King wrote about Sessions’s racism on the Senate floor. Paul voted with his Republican colleagues to censor Sen. Elizabeth Warren for trying to read King’s letter into the Congressional record.
In January, Paul defended Sessions, saying, “There’s no evidence, in his public career, that he has ever been racially insensitive.”
By February, he’d changed his tune a bit, blaming Democrats’ personal attacks on Sessions for his own vote.
“I think it’s very upsetting that they didn’t choose to go after him on particular issues, like civil asset forfeiture, where they might have been able to persuade someone,” he said at the time. “They chose to go after a man’s character.”
Paul voted to confirm Jeff Sessions, essentially arguing that he was the least bad option, though it’s hard to see what plausible candidate could be worse in this role, aside from perhaps Sheriff David Clarke.
Sessions’s support for civil forfeiture was well-known at the time of his conirmation vote. For a politician whose chief selling point is his ostensible independence of thought, Paul has displayed a pretty boring and predictable partisan hypocrisy on this. When President Obama nominated Loretta Lynch as attorney general, Paul voted against her in part because of her record on asset forfeiture. His criticism at the time was valid: During her time as a U.S. attorney for New York’s Eastern District, she oversaw the seizure of more than $100 million in funds and property.
Now, with Sessions indicating he wants the DOJ to go even further with asset forfeiture, Paul’s office won’t say whether he regrets voting for Sessions. “The Fifth Amendment protects us from the government depriving us of our property without due process of law,” Paul said in a statement. “I oppose the government overstepping its boundaries by assuming a suspect’s guilt and seizing their property before they even have their day in court.”
Paul’s excuse for voting for Sessions, minus the petty justification that Democrats forced his hand with their meanness, boiled down to: I didn’t think Sessions would do what he has made a point of doing his entire career once he got to the Justice Department. We are to believe that Paul is extremely gullible, cynical, just plain dumb, or some combination of the three. He hasn’t come up with a better reason for voting for Sessions, and refuses to admit any regret for his vote.
No matter what he’d have you believe, Paul now bears direct responsibility for the indefinite continuation, and even escalation, of the War on Drugs. He either knew what Sessions would do and voted to confirm him anyway, or he made the staggeringly stupid assumption that Sessions would suddenly become a different, less punitive and authoritarian-minded public official as soon as he entered the Trump administration. Paul sold out many Americans, including many of his own supporters, when he voted for Sessions, and somewhere deep down, he must know it.