A bipartisan coalition of nearly two dozen organizations is calling on Congress to adopt amendments approved by the House last month that would reverse the Justice Department's expansion of civil forfeiture.
Groups including the NAACP, Institute for Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, and the Goldwater Institute sent a letter Tuesday to top Republicans and Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi criticizing the Justice Department's new policy and urging Congress to include the amendments in negotiations with the Senate over an end-of-year appropriations bill.
The amendments, offered with support from Democrats and Republicans and adopted by the House last month, were intended to "prevent the unjustified expansion of civil forfeiture and to ensure that the protections for innocent property owners that were put in place in 2015 are restored and remain in place," the 23 groups said.
"The current civil forfeiture system undermines property rights and is fundamentally unjust," the organizations wrote in their letter. "Law enforcement can confiscate property from citizens and businesses without any criminal conviction or even criminal charges. Once their property has been seized, ordinary Americans must navigate a system that is stacked against them."
The House adopted three amendments by voice vote in September blocking the Justice Department's expansion of civil forfeiture. Adoption of the measures was viewed largely as a rebuke of the directive from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Sessions announced the new civil forfeiture policy in July, which expanded law enforcement's ability to seize property they believe is tied to a crime. Under the policy, the government has the authority to take all assets lawfully seized by state or local law enforcement when the alleged crime associated with the seizure is in violation of federal law.
The Justice Department's policy reversed a 2015 directive from former Attorney General Eric Holder that effectively banned "adoptive" forfeitures, which occur when the federal government adopts property seized by law enforcement and proceeds to forfeit it under federal law.
Under adoptive forfeitures, local law enforcement agencies can keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds from forfeited property.
Many Republican and Democratic lawmakers condemned Sessions' policy change and are calling for reforms to the current civil forfeiture system. Critics believe the tool provides law enforcement with a perverse profit incentive and leads to innocent Americans having property seized without ever being charged with a crime.
In their letter to lawmakers, the coalition of organizations called Sessions' policy change "an affront to basic principles of federalism" that "should not be funded by American taxpayers."
"The House of Representatives has spoken clearly through its adoption of these amendments, and that collective judgment should be reflected in the final legislation that is presented to the president for signature," the groups wrote.