Yeah, I didn’t believe it, either, when I read the news on Friday.
Eric Holder — that Eric Holder — delivering a major kneecapping to America’s government-approved highway robbers?
But Radley Balko believes it. So I believe it.
Well, more or less.
No question about it, federal “ownership” of local asset forfeiture cases has enabled forfeiture abuse like nothing else and has done more for police corruption since anything but … well, the drug war itself. (You’ve got to wonder; was there every anyone associated with this scam who truly believed it wouldn’t lead to corruption and injustice?)
Having the feds standing by with open arms to “adopt” local seizures (thus allowing local cop-ops to keep most of their stolen goods for whatever purpose they wished) made state asset forfeiture reforms virtually moot. States would try to divert seized funds to schools or some other purpose, and cops would just make their cases federal and say “&^%$# you!” to their state governments. Then they’d go on grabbing whatever cash or assets they could without ever charging anybody with a crime.
Nice racket if you can pull it off! And for years, cops have.
So if Holder really means it and if it sticks, Friday’s announcement is a very big deal. But sadly not the end of non-criminal asset forfeiture.
In addition to the concerns Balko raises, I can think of a bunch more.
If one AG, on his own say-so, can end such a colossally abusive policy, there’s nothing to stop a future ‘crat from instituting another just like it — or worse. (Ah, the joys of “democracy”!)
It’s possible that those freedom-loving (and property-rights respecting) R’s newly in control of Congress will — in a fit of support-your-local-policeism — re-institute the worst aspects of asset forfeiture, and make it law, not just bureaucratic policy.
Even if the way is now open for meaningful state-level reform, it’s a good bet that not a lot of states will institute real reform (like banning asset forfeiture outside of limited criminal cases). Too often, “reform” has just meant states want to put the stolen cash into state coffers, rather than cop coffers. And while that would take away a lot of the incentive for stealing it in the first place, it’s not enough.
So yeah. There’s a lot that could go wrong here. And where government’s involved, you can bet that what can go wrong will go wrong.
Still … what happened on Friday might be the only good thing Eric Holder has ever done for freedom. So for the moment let’s be of good cheer.