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.
I believe his motivation was more along the lines of trying to starve local police of money they use to militarize, and to disincentivize police from stopping African Americans, but we will take what we can get. Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons sure beats doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons… which is all he had done up until now.
No country is free when the authorities can confiscate its citizens’ possessions without proving, or even charging, that a crime was committed. It should give us pause that a single man, in this case Holder, can decide whether our rights are protected or not. It took an institutional failure at every level for us to have the civil asset forfeiture regime that we have now. We are a nation of men rather than laws when our rights hinge upon the whims of a single man.
One thing the Post does not emphasize is that Congressional Republicans had written Holder asking for the changes and stating that they were working on a reform bill. They will now try to codify the changes into law. They just won’t get a headline giving them credit for it. I am fine with this since president Bush could have easily made these changes when he was in office and failed to do so. Even if Holder’s hand was forced the Republicans had ample opportunity to have done the right thing and claimed the credit for it. They just had other priorities — like screwing the base. It took a Tea Party influx for an issue like this to become a priority.