Sunday, April 26, 2015

Senate Democrats Turn Back on Civil Liberties in Supporting Civil Forfeiture Enthusiast for Attorney General

This weekend I had a chance to speak at the State Libertarian Party convention about civil asset forfeiture, a topic of great interest to me.  The political dynamics on the issue have shifted tremendously the past 10-15 years.  Libertarians have always strongly opposed civil forfeiture.  But increasingly Republicans have turned against civil forfeiture, in particular Tea Party Republicans who harbor a natural distrust of the over-reaching power of government.  On the other side, Democrats suddenly seem to have no problem with civil forfeiture, despite well-documented abuses.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch
This past week illustrated the shifting politics of the issue.  The Senate voted to confirm the Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, as Attorney General. was one of the few media outlets that focused on the forfeiture issue during Lynch's confirmation process:
U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, nominated to replace Eric Holder as attorney general, sat before the Senate's Judiciary Committee to be asked questions (or sit through speeches from senators only vaguely approaching the concept of a question) about President Barack Obama's use of executive authority on immigration, waterboarding, prosecuting terrorists, marijuana legalization, Operation Chokepoint, gay marriage recognition, and a number of other issues. The hearings and speeches continue today.   
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) yesterday brought up asset forfeiture to gauge Lynch's position. He wanted to know whether Lynch thought the way the Department of Justice in partnership with local law enforcement agencies handle criminal and more particularly civil asset forfeiture was "fair."
Lynch responded that "civil and criminal forfeiture are very important tools of the Department of Justice as well as our state and local counterparts." Speaking directly about civil asset forfeiture, she claimed that such forfeiture is  "done pursuant to supervision by a court, it is done pursuant to court order, and I believe the protections are there."
That would come as news to the three brothers of the Hirsch family in Long Island. In 2012, they saw $447,000 of their assets seized by the IRS and the Department of Justice over an allegation that their business Bi-County Distributors, which delivers snack foods to convenience stores, was deliberately depositing cash deposits in amounts smaller than $10,000 in order to avoid IRS reporting requirements.   
It was Lynch's office who handled this seizure and Lynch's office who kept the company's money for more than two years without ever setting a court date for the business to attempt to get its money back, nor was anybody in the family ever charged with any crime. The asset-forfeiture-fighting lawyers of the Institute for Justice (IJ) took on the Hirsch family's case, and just earlier this very month, Lynch's office agreed to give them their money back.
So, needless to say, Larry Salzman, the IJ attorney who represented the Hirsch family, did not agree with Lynch's statement that targets of DOJ asset forfeiture have necessary protections.   
"Her office in particular seized money under the civil forfeiture laws and held it for more than two and a half years without filing any sort of complaint in court," Salzman says, "without any hearing before a judge. That's the raw facts." 
Salzman says Lynch's office just ignored the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000, which mandates deadlines for the DOJ to make its case for seizing property, or claimed it did not apply.
One would think Democrats, who claim to be for civil liberties and for the little guy, would have had grave reservations about Lynch's use and abuse of civil forfeiture.  Instead the Democrats in the Senate voted for her unanimously.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am an out gay person who has watched the Democrat Party claim to be the proponent of "civil rights and the little guy" for decades. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I am therefore not surprised to see another left liberal Democrat elevated to Attorney General. America as it was founded no loner exists and we can thank BOTH major parties for kicking the U.S. Constitution to the curb.