Landmark Supreme Court Decision Unanimously Defends Private Property Rights – Overturns State’s Draconian Policy of Seizing Personal Assets

Elder Patriot  Score one for freedom.  

The Supreme Court has upheld the Eighth Amendment protections as applying in all cases regardless whether the action is brought in State courts or Federal courts.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

That sounds simple enough.  The penalty should fit the crime, nothing more.

James W. Ely, Jr., Vanderbilt University has written in defense of private property rights as the foundational bedrock of a free society:

Significance of Private Property

Why should anyone care about property rights? Before embarking upon an investigation of property rights over the course of American history we should briefly explore the role of private property in the establishment of representative self-government. I submit that property serves two vital and overlapping functions in a free society. The economic utility of property dovetails with libertarian political considerations to undergird a free society.

First, stable property rights are a powerful inducement for the creation of wealth and prosperity, prerequisites for successful self-government. Conversely, as the English politician and author Edmund Burke declared:” A law against property is a law against industry.” John Marshall agreed that protection of property and contractual rights was crucial for economic growth. Speaking at the Virginia ratifying convention, he insisted that weak government under the Articles of Confederation “takes away the incitements to industry, by rendering property insecure and unprotected.” In short, as a leading scholar had stressed, “Marshall was convinced that strong protection for property and investment capital would promote national prosperity.” The resulting market economy would increase national wealth and benefit all citizens with increased goods.

Second, property rights have long been linked with individual liberty. “Property must be secured,” John Adams succinctly observed in 1790, “or liberty cannot exist.” An economic system grounded on respect for private ownership tends to diffuse power and to strengthen individual autonomy from government. Property was therefore traditionally seen as a safeguard of liberty because it set limits on the reach of legitimate government. By helping to preserve the economic independence of individuals, secure private property encourages participation in the political process and willingness to challenge governmental policy. Viewed in this light, the ownership of property represents personal empowerment. As one prominent historian described American society as it neared the break with England, “Men were equal in that no one of them should be dependent on the will of another, and property made this independence possible. Americans in 1776 therefore concluded that they were naturally fit for republicanism precisely because they were ‘a people of property; almost every man is a freeholder’.”

In contrast, there are few examples of free societies that do not respect the rights of property owners. One could persuasively maintain that without guarantee of property rights the enjoyment of other individual liberties, such as freedom of speech, would be meaningless.

Simply, if the government reserves the right to seize your property disproportionately to a crime you might have committed, then that government possesses the tool to silence you.

Incidentally, that is why we have a second amendment immediately backing up the first amendment.

Those fundamental rights have been under siege since the states first determined they had the right to a process known as asset forfeiture, that allows police to take property for themselves if they suspect it is being used for a crime or has been secured in the commission of a crime.

During the confirmation hearings of Loretta Lynch, Obama’s Attorney General, described civil asset forfeiture as “a wonderful tool”:

That wonderful tool has been abused by state and local governments over the years as a means of padding their budgets with hundreds of millions of dollars.  By seizing property from American citizens, even when they have not been charged with a crime, governments have been able to militarize their police forces without raising taxes.

Once the property has been seized, the burden then falls on the defendant to hire an attorney that he or she can ill-afford to try to get it returned.

In January of 2015, The Daily Caller ran a story listing the seven most egregious cases.

Here’s one:

A family in the Philadelphia suburbs that had their home seized by police because their son sold drugs out of the house, CNN reports. The son was charged for selling $40 of heroin, but the parents say they didn’t know about it.

If that sounds somewhat disproportionate, it is.  But, the states felt emboldened to get away with this under the pretense that the Eighth Amendment only applies to federal law.

Un, huh.

The case before the court, Timbs v Indiana, involved Tyson Timbs who pleaded guilty in Indiana state court to dealing in a controlled substance and conspiracy to commit theft. At the time of Timbs’s arrest, the police seized a Land Rover SUV Timbs had purchased for $42,000 with money he received from an insurance policy when his father died. The State sought civil forfeiture of Timbs’s vehicle, charging that the SUV had been used to transport heroin. Observing that Timbs had recently purchased the vehicle for more than four times the maximum $10,000 monetary fine assessable against him for his drug conviction, the trial court denied the State’s request. The vehicle’s forfeiture, the court determined, would be grossly disproportionate to the gravity of Timbs’s offense, and therefore unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause. The Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed, but the Indiana Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Excessive Fines Clause constrains only federal action and is inapplicable to state impositions.

On Wednesday the Supreme Court  ruled Eighth Amendment protections apply to every United States citizen in courts of jurisdiction..

On Wednesday, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority:

“For good reason, the protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history.  Excessive fines can be used, for example, to retaliate against or chill the speech of political enemies, or can become sources of revenue disconnected from the criminal justice system.

Justices Roberts, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh joined.  Justices Gorsuch and Thomas also filed separate concurring opinions of their own.

Freedom wins… this time.