Let's Fix This Country

Columnist George F. Will, Ex-Republican, Goes After Jeff Sessions

By guest columnist Al Rodbell

George Will gave up his long time registration in the Republican party when it chose their nominee for the Presidency, and unlike many others who protested this at the time, he has not backed down an inch. This is in contrast to the Bush family who all sent Trump their congratulations, and most egregiously Mitt Romney who fawned over him, along with so many other former “neverTrump” Republicans. This has freed Will from any party ideology or concern about how he appears to a target audience of its members. O.K. sure, he’s still a conservative, but unlike V.P. Elect Pence, it’s not first on his list of self identities.

I just came across this article in the Washington Post, where his convoluted writing is as difficult to digest as his ultimate message is enlightening. So, I’m just giving the link, as the headline is also confusing. But it is too important not to amplify here, as it describes something I will even coin a word for, “local fascism” in that unlike the usual meaning of the word that implies the denial of personal liberties coming from the top down, a Fuhrer or a Franco, the local version can occur within a police department, with cooperation from the local DA.

The subject is well described in the Wikipedia article: Civil forfeiture in the United States, giving the history, legal principles, and controversies, perhaps a bit too extensively. What George Will has contributed in his article is showing that Jeff Sessions, as Senator and more importantly, nominee to be the U.S. Attorney General supports this procedure and ignores it’s misuse -- a means of police shakedown the extent of which can never be fully documented. Will is now able to do his columns with the freedom to show how both parties can be implicated, as he links an article that shows how Eric Holder’s leadership of the Department of Justice didn’t go far enough to limit the excesses.

Basically, in most states, a police officer can pull you over, and doesn’t have to use force, but just make an arrest, and if he decides that you LetsFixThisCountry dealt with the scourge of local civil forfeiture at length in this article "Law Enforcement Has a License to Steal from You" two years ago.

are not wealthy enough to defend a civil lawsuit, confiscate the car without a criminal trial and probably not even a civil one. Will chose to sacrifice ease of reading by making his article somewhat of a puzzle, a device to capture the readers attention that only one with a solid reputation can get away with. He starts by saying that Jeff Sessions (without using his name) is “very unhappy” with (any) criticisms of today’s civil forfeiture practices.

At a 2015 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on forfeiture abuses, (Sessions) said “taking and seizing and forfeiting, through a government judicial process, illegal gains from criminal enterprises is not wrong,” and neither is law enforcement enriching itself from this.

In the manner of the man for whom he soon will work (Donald Trump), this senator (Sessions) asserted an unverifiable number: “95 percent” of forfeitures involve people who have “done nothing in their lives but sell dope.”

This senator (Sessions) said it should not be more difficult for “government to take money from a drug dealer than it is for a businessperson to defend themselves in a lawsuit.” In seizing property suspected of involvement in a crime, government “should not have a burden of proof higher than in a normal civil case.”

Trump ran as the “Law and Order Candidate” which most of took as relating to his not taking “#blacklivesmatter as a problem to be solved, but an attack on those enforcing the law. If you dig into the Wikipedia article, and explore the linked Supreme Court decisions, you will see that even those that support the civil forfeitures are aware of their abuses and want to prevent them as much as possible. Police departments that fund operations on confiscations without due process proving criminal activity are using laws that made complete sense in 16th century on the high seas when a pirate ship was captured. These two points are from Wikipedia: Victims often have "long legal struggles to get their money back". One estimate was that only one percent of federally taken property is ever returned to their former owners.

It’s good to have George Will, now an independent, using his talents to intelligently address issues that are not targeted to a partisan audience. This cycle of “confirmation bias” underlies the era of “facts no longer matter” and it's good to see one talented writer who is bucking this.


The single dissent by Justice Paul Stevens in the case of Bennis v. Michigan is a clear explanation of how a valid principle has been misused. This paragraph sums it up:

"While our historical cases establish the propriety of seizing a freighter when its entire cargo consists of smuggled goods, none of them would justify the confiscation of an ocean liner just because one of its passengers sinned while on board. See, e.g., Phile v. Ship Anna, 1 Dall. 197, 206 (C. P. Phila. Cty. 1787) (holding that forfeiture of a ship was inappropriate if an item of contraband hidden on board was "a trifling thing, easily concealed, and which might fairly escape the notice of the captain"); J. W. Goldsmith, Jr. Grant Co. v. United States, 254 U.S. 505, 512 (1921) (expressing doubt about expansive forfeiture applications). The principal use of the car in this case was not to provide a site for petitioner's husband to carry out forbidden trysts. Indeed, there is no evidence in the record that the car had ever previously been used for a similar purpose. An isolated misuse of a stationary vehicle should not justify the forfeiture of an innocent owner's property on the theory that it constituted an instrumentality of the crime."

>                       Al's other essays can be found at AlRodbell.com.

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