Civil Asset Forfeiture: Liberty Vocabulary


One of the most flagrant attacks upon Liberty and the due process of law is the federal government’s program of civil asset forfeiture.  This program allows the police to confiscate people’s cash and other property if they “suspect” that it is linked to criminal (mostly drug) offenses – even if the subjects are never even charged with a crime!  And, of course, the police have incentives to seize people’s property, since they get to keep part of the booty.  Furthermore, when seizures occur, it is up to the owners of the property to file a lawsuit to get it back, and even then they have the burden of proof to show that it was not gained from a criminal offense.  Some of those programs were pared down under President Obama, but US Attorney General Sessions recently announced a policy that will remove many protections from these “policing for profit” programs.

Most people agree that cash and property gained by illegal means should be forfeited to the government or otherwise returned to the victims.  But that should only occur with two conditions:

  1. First, forfeiture could only occur after the subjects have been charged with and convicted of a criminal offense, with the same jury concluding that the property was obtained as a result of that illegality.
  2. Second, the forfeited property should go into the general fund, and not to any particular agency.

That will remove improper incentives.  Otherwise, at the very least, all of these forfeitures should be considered to be a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits the imposition of excessive fines.  Liberty demands that Attorney General Sessions rescind this new policy!  Fortunately, all of us have the opportunity to have our voices heard by contacting our members of Congress and demanding the passage of the FAIR Act to reform federal asset forfeiture laws and stop incentivizing law enforcement seizures without a criminal conviction!

-Judge Jim Gray

The Conservative Case for Workers’ Unions

We all know that the “pendulum” swings back and forth over time as to many issues. And, although I never thought I would say this, one pendulum swing that should happen again regards what I call voluntary workers’ unions. I came to that conclusion after reading an article by Jonathan Rauch in the July/August issue of The Atlantic entitled “The Conservative Case for Unions.” As we all know, private-sector labor unions in the past had become so powerful that they could sometimes dictate how many companies could do business. So eventually the reaction against that power became so strong that laws were passed, along with many bureaucratic regulations and court interpretations  that specifically prohibited creative ways of forming unions, and those already formed were forbidden from engaging in a number of activities. Public unions (a real problem) are a whole ‘nother issue for another time. But, Liberty-lovers should always be in favor of voluntary associations.

Times have certainly changed, but the restrictive laws have not; laws which (mostly) prohibit the formation of such things as creative “workers’ unions.” Even if not fully empowered to negotiate wages, engage in strikes, or be involved in collective bargaining issues, workers’ unions can serve other functions. For example, almost all surveys of lower economic-level workers show their biggest complaint being a lack of respect and a feeling of diminishment in how they are treated in the workplace. So a workers’ union could 1) give the workers a unified voice, and 2) address and propose resolutions for things such as workplace safety issues. In addition, it would allow the workers to pursue (together with management) innovations like helping the administration of government-funded unemployment, health and benefit plans, wage insurance, and even serve as employment agencies. Liberty allows for innovation and change and, in this area, Liberty is being stifled.

-Judge Jim Gray, from his “Two Paragraphs for Liberty” series. Slightly edited.

Candidate for Vice President of the United States in 2012 on Governor Gary Johnson’s Libertarian Party ticket.