Eric Holder’s Finest Hour

Goodbye to most civil forfeiture. I have never been much of a fan of Holder’s — indeed I thought he was one of the most destructive members of the Cabinet in large part for his failure to prosecute torturers, but also for a bunch of other things, starting with the issue of holdover US Attorneys.

But this move is just plain good.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without proving that a crime occurred.

Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.

Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.

Holder’s decision allows some limited exceptions, including illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography, a small fraction of the total. This would eliminate virtually all cash and vehicle seizures made by local and state police from the program.

While police can continue to make seizures under their own state laws, the federal program was easy to use and required most of the proceeds from the seizures to go to local and state police departments. Many states require seized proceeds to go into the general fund.

A Justice official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the attorney general’s motivation, said Holder “also believes that the new policy will eliminate any possibility that the adoption process might unintentionally incentivize unnecessary stops and seizures.”

And if this is what he’s like once Holder is on the way out, does it not suggest we should have gotten him out a long time ago?

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6 Responses to Eric Holder’s Finest Hour

  1. Nobody Important says:

    The federal government’s only motivation here is to weaken local police forces. This was *NOT* a victory for civil liberties.

    • OK, I’ll bite: *why* exactly would the federal government *want* to “weaken local police forces”? It can’t be to take over the country, they already run it…

      • Nobody Important says:

        Obama and Holder have been using Sharpton as a proxy for quite some time to push for greater federal control over policing:

        Cutting off a major funding source for local police helps get that ball rolling. If civil liberties were really the issue, wouldn’t a thoughtful policy maker have simultaneously proposed ways for local police forces to make up for this sudden funding loss?

        Sorry, but in light of NSA-gate and Lois Lerner-gate on this administration’s watch, I can only laugh at anyone who thinks this administration gives a damn about civil liberties.

        • Actually, news reports suggested that lots of departments used it as a slush fund for parties and the like, so I’m not sure that this is money we actually need to replace.

          And of course there’s this:

          • Nobody Important says:

            Your response does not address the thrust of my argument, which is that the administration’s motives are not a deeply held concern for civil liberties. You may feel this is a nice side effect, but it is not why they are doing it.

            While I admire and appreciate it every time the press points out government waste, the article you cited is at best anecdotal and a far cry from convincing me that the quality of local policing won’t suffer when these funds disappear.

            • I don’t see any reason to believe that the administration gains from more crime, so I think the burden of proof is on anyone who asserts that they just have it in for local police. And the fact that the administration has made nice to Al Sharpton proves approximately nothing in my book — he doesn’t have a federal job, does he?

              I do agree that this administration has a generally lousy record on civil liberties – that is one reason why I’ve been so negative about Holder.

              The forfeiture program created an incentive for local departments to seize property from the innocent. It lacked due process. It was routinely abused. I’m very glad to see it shrink (It’s not gone), whatever the motives.

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