A Muzzle on Civil Asset Forfeiture

The Supreme Court came out with a ruling this week which is far more important than it sounds:

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that the Constitution’s ban on excessive fines applies to state and local governments, thus limiting their ability to use fines to raise revenue.

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“Forfeiture of the Land Rover, the court determined, would be grossly disproportionate to the gravity of Timbs’s offense,” Ginsburg wrote.

She also noted that the ban on excessive fines was added to the Bill of Rights for the purpose of protecting individual liberty. “Protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history for good reason: Such fines undermine other liberties.”

She noted that those fines could be used to retaliate against political enemies and have been used as a source of revenue.

The ruling effectively means states and local municipalities cannot use fines as a mechanism for raising revenue, something many local governments do.

Ignoring the question of whether Ginsburg really wrote that or not, this is exceedingly good news.  Media coverage couches this is terms of local governments losing a revenue stream but hopefully this is a step in the right direction for stopping them from (il)legally seizing assets from innocent people who are never charged with anything but have simply done something “suspicious” like carry too much cash or moved a little too much money around in their bank account.

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