Attorney General Jeff Sessions has not received a lot of love from his former colleagues in Congress. First, they've extended an amendment that bars the Department of Justice from pursuing marijuana cases in legal states. And now they're pushing back on his efforts to expand civil asset forfeiture programs.
A bipartisan group of senators released a letter yesterday in which they called on the legislative body to pass a law to restrict the ability of the Department of Justice to enact civil asset forfeiture programs. The whole controversy started in July when Sessions announced his plans to eliminate a policy from the Obama administration that restricted the Justice Department from taking on civil asset forfeiture cases from local or state authorities. Some states have much tighter laws on civil forfeiture than the federal government, so Sessions' policy would allow local police to circumvent the tighter state laws and go straight to the feds.
Civil asset forfeiture is a controversial policy in the United States. It allows law enforcement to seize property and belongings of individuals suspected of committing crimes without actually charging them for doing anything. And then it's usually left to the individual whose stuff was taken to prove that property or belongings weren't involved in criminal activity rather than law enforcement proving it was.
The policy was immediately controversial on both sides of the political aisle. In September, the House actually passed a measure that would defund the DOJ's civil asset forfeiture efforts. Those measures were included in a large appropriations bill, and the Senate and House are working together to finalize the bill.
The senators wrote the letter to Senator Richard Shelby, one of the legislators in charge of creating the finalized appropriations bill. They asked that he include at least one of the amendments defunding the DOJ's forfeiture program. The senators who signed the bill included Republicans Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Mike Crapo, Democrats Jeff Merkley and Tom Udall, and Independent Senator Angus King.
While it's still unclear if Shelby and Congress will include the amendments, the fact that it's receiving bipartisan support indicates that it's an issue that will not go away. And it might mean Jeff Sessions will have to rethink his policies in office.