Reprinted from www.libertylobby.org, home of The SPOTLIGHT archive
Stop Property Grab by Feds
The right to private property has always been constitutionally protected in the United States. The Fifth Amendment to our Constitution specifically states that "no person shall be...deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; not shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."
These words are in the Bill of Rights, which our Founding Fathers put there to protect the people from an all powerful government. And nobody can take away these rights unless we let them.
Today, at an ever increasing rate, so-called forfeiture laws are being interpreted and implemented as weapons against the right of the people to keep their property, as our Spotlight n congress describes this week.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal (Dec. 29, 1997), James Bovard, an authority on the rights of Americans, Presents an ugly picture of the power of government against the people to be secure in their right to private property.
He points out that there are more than 100 federal laws authorizing federal agents to confiscate private property, allegedly involved in violations of statutes on wildlife, gambling, narcotics, immigration, money laundering, and so forth.
You would think that the courts wouldn't permit such gross violations of the Constitution. But think again. Chief Justice William Rehnquist did just that in a case involving a woman who co-owned a car with her husband. The car was seized for the illicit behavior of the husband. The wife was nowhere near the incident. She claimed her constitutional rights were violated and sued all the way to the Supreme Court, seeking compensation for the car.
In ruling against the woman Rehnquist wrote that "The government may not be required to compensate an owner for property which it has already lawfully acquired to compensate an owner for property which it has already lawfully acquired under the exercise of governmental authority.
Bovard comments that "Rehquist basically granted government unlimited power to steal: If it wants to 'lawfully acquire' private property without compensation, all it need to do is write more confiscatory laws."
The matter of innocence does not count. Nor does the matter of honesty. Currently, the Supreme Court is considering the case of a Syrian immigrant who decided to return to Syria, taking along with him $357,144. This money was the profit from the sale of two service stations he owned and loan repayments for Syrian relatives.
The government confiscated the money because the traveler did not fill out a federal disclosure form stating he was taking more than $10,000 out of the country.
However, he won both in federal district court and in the appeals court, which ruled he had acquired the money honestly and therefore it should be returned to him.
The federal government has taken the case to the Supreme court asserting that the fact that he failed to fill out the disclosure form is the relevant consideration and not the fact that the money was legally and honestly earned.
Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Judiciary committee, was at one time, the chief sponsor of a bipartisan bill to correct abuses of seizure: "Some of our civil asset seizure laws are being used in terribly unjust ways and depriving innocent citizens of their property with nothing that can be called due process."
But then Hyde caved in to the power of the Justice Department. At the last minute before the committee was to vote on the measure, Hyde replaced his good bill with one crafted by lawyers from the Justice Department. The foxes were writing the rules for watching the chickens.
This new bill moved quickly through his committee and was reported out on a 26-1 vote June 21. The lone dissenter was Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), who has a track record of speaking up for the people. (He is leading the move to impeach Bill Clinton, for example.)
FOR THE PEOPLE
Barr originally co-sponsored the first Hyde bill on forfeiture reform. But this new measure prompted him to say that it "seems to be precisely what the Department of Justice wanted." Barr notes that "The problem is that it has a good title [The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act] and with the reputation of Chairman Hyde behind it, that carries a lot of weight."
Time and again we have pointed out in this column that the people cannot look to their elected representatives to back them up. Congress is too busy working overtime for those who tell it what to do and when to do it. The real movers and shakers are the high level plutocrats who boldly hold all power to themselves, allowing the people to believe otherwise.
Alarmingly, Bovard says that the new Hyde bill "greatly expands prosecutors' power to seize people's assets before a trial -thereby potentially crippling a person's ability to hire defense counsel, makes it much more difficult for citizens to get summary judgements against wrongful seizures, and greatly increases the number of crimes for which government can seize a person's or a corporation's assets."
Now Liberty Lobby and The SPOTLIGHT have always contended that the American eople are way ahead of the Congress in believing in the Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights. In fact, the Establishment's own polls consistently make Congress a liar.
What is more, the policy positions of Liberty Lobby and The SPOTLIGHT are those of the American majority. If the Hyde Forfeiture Reform Act moves along to become law, the American people will have one more illustration of congressional contempt for them.
As we have often said, if we do not exercise our rights and fight to keep our Constitution safe from those who would destroy it -- including Congress -- we deserve to lose our liberty.
We must escalate the attack. The refusal of the House to grant President Clinton fast track authority to expand NAFTA was a sign that we can win. Members of both parties stood firm because the people forced them to. It was a great defeat for the plutocrats and their Global Plantation.
That was before the current recess. Members will return on January 27. Unless they are partying it up on a tax-paid junket somewhere, they are home now. Keep the pressure on them. It is your right. It is your duty.
Government has no right to take our property, our lives or our freedom without due process, regardless of the opinions of chief Justice Rehnquist and Henry Hyde.
Remember: Your influence counts. Use it!