Diary

An Open Letter to Senatorial Democrats

The nomination of Loretta Lynch to the position of Attorney General is before you. Although her intelligence, experience, and poise may appear to make her a superb candidate, it is clear now that she would be an extremely poor – even dangerous — choice due to her strong position on civil asset forfeiture.

Though I as a libertarian and you as a liberal may disagree on many things, the need to safeguard civil liberties and individual rights is a priority for both of us. Do you really want to consider confirming a person who has been proud of her record of taking property without due process….of guilty until proven innocent? She may very well bring down anyone who supports her candidacy.

Civil asset forfeiture is a particularly egregious abuse of power, allowing the government to seize property and cash if it merely suspects wrongdoing, even with no evidence and no charging of a crime.

Loretta Lynch was particularly lucrative in this regard as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Between 2011 and 2013, the forfeiture operations under her management netted more than $113 million in civil actions. Lynch’s division was among the top in the country for its collections. But this is not something to be proud of.

In one particularly appalling case, Loretta Lynch’s office seized nearly a half-million dollars from two businessman in 2012 and sat on it for more than two years without a court hearing or appearance before a judge. In fact, no crime had been committed. These men were denied due process and deprived of their assets without warning or criminal charges. Lynch suddenly returned the money just weeks ago on January 20, 2015 — on the eve of her confirmation hearings, having found no wrongdoing by the men either.

During Lynch’s confirmation hearing testimony pertaining to civil asset forfeiture, Lynch stated that “civil and criminal forfeiture are very important tools of the Department of Justice as well as our state and local counterparts.” She further argued that forfeiture is “ done pursuant to court order, and I believe the protections are there.” This is, in fact, not true. In the case mentioned above, there was not only no court order, but also no hearing at any time in nearly three years. That is unconscionable. And this is only one of many similar incidents.

The problem of civil asset forfeiture is that the government can confiscate money or property under the mere suspicion of a crime without ever actually charging someone. The person must prove his innocence to reclaim what was seized, which is a burden of time and money and readily seems to go against our notion of “innocent until proven guilty.”

In recent months, individuals and organizations on both sides of the political aisle have come together to demand reform to this unjust practice. Bipartisan legislation has been proposed in Congress; groups ranging from the Heritage Foundation to the American Civil Liberties Union have been increasingly critical of civil asset forfeiture practices. Even Eric Holder has called for changes and the IRS has pledged to reduce its involvement as well. What’s more, besides the obvious threat to civil liberties, those most likely to be victims are poor and minority citizens.

Loretta Lynch and her record on civil asset forfeiture represents the worst of this “tool for law enforcement”. A vote for her confirmation is a vote you will never be able to walk back. Do you really want to confirm a person who is so deeply committed to civil asset forfeiture at the very same time there is strong bipartisan support for protecting civil liberties and walking back the laws pertaining to this practice?

Loretta Lynch may arguably be the most successful forfeiture agent in government today. This is not a positive quality for an Attorney General. The practice is abusive and her tactics even more so. Voting to confirm a person with such an atrocious civil liberties record is certain to cause problems for you down the road. I urge you to vote no for her confirmation.