Ethics Dunce: Attorney General Jeff Sessions

There were many good reasons to oppose Jeff Sessions as President Trump’ nominee to be the next Attorney General. One, which I focused on, was that his nomination foolishly fed into the Democratic slur that Trump and the Republicans were racists. Sessions had been successfully tarred decades ago based on some racially-insensitive comments he had made, and even though tangible evidence of any racial bias was thin, it was foolish for Trump to court a controversy when there were plenty of equally or more qualified candidates. Another reason was that Sessions had been an early supporter of Trump’s candidacy for the GOP nomination, which is signature significance for stupidity, poor judgment or recklessness. Take your pick.

Now Sessions has announced, while speaking at a National District Attorneys Association conference, that the Justice Department will issue new directives to increase the federal government’s use of civil asset forfeiture, an unethical, Constitutionally dubious practice that needs to be cut back or eliminated.

“[W]e 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.”

 

Utah’s Republican Senator Mike Lee expressed alarm at Sessions’ announcement yesterday, saying in a statment, “As Justice Thomas has previously said, there are serious constitutional concerns regarding modern civil asset forfeiture practices. The Department has an obligation to consider due process constraints in crafting its civil asset forfeiture policies.” Justice Clarence Thomas’ had written in his dissent in an asset forfeiture case last month that forfeiture operations “frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings.” Continue reading

Holder Does The Right Thing. Finally.

forfeiture pictureFrom the Washington Post:

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.The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. The program allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of the adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.

I wrote about this outrageous abuse of government and police power in 2012. It is an ethics disgrace of long-standing; why Holder was moved to take this action now (and not his first day on the job), I can’t imagine: maybe he wanted to finally do something as he leaves Justice that makes up in some small measure for his atrocious leadership. It doesn’t matter: seldom has the phrase better late than never been more apt. I’ll attempt to overlook the millions of dollars worth of property stolen from innocent citizens by the government over the last six years and give Holder his due now. He did the right thing.

Finally.