Attorney General Jeff Sessions has sanctioned the use of civil asset forfeiture by law enforcement, despite bipartisan political opposition to the controversial practice. New Mexico and Nebraska have taken the lead by banning it. Will others follow?
Law enforcement agencies that oppose attempts to reform civil asset forfeiture have a new ally in Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who last week announced moves to buttress their ability to seize people’s assets, despite bipartisan opposition to the practice. Slate says the Sessions initiative runs counter to a trend that seems to be taking hold. It began in 2015 in New Mexico, which became the first state to ban civil forfeiture. Law enforcement was previously entitled to 100 percent of forfeiture profits under state law.
That changed when a coalition of civil rights and advocacy organizations, including the ACLU of New Mexico, teamed up with Brad Cates, who oversaw federal asset forfeiture under President Reagan, to convince legislators that the practice was an abuse of power. Their argument was bolstered by a leaked recording of a prosecutor encouraging police to seize expensive cars and homes. Nebraska passed a similar law abolishing civil forfeiture last year, after the state’s ACLU chapter released a damning report on the practice in 2015. The ACLU leveraged public outrage over the report in conversations with legislators, says Spike Eickholt, an ACLU lobbyist. Law enforcers put forth a tone-deaf opposition that focused on the law’s effect on agencies’ bottom lines.