A bipartisan group of senators have asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to curb the authority of police officers to confiscate money from people who haven't committed crimes.
The six senators, including one of Sessions' closest allies in recent years, want him to change Justice Department policy on civil asset forfeiture, a practice designed to crack down on crime syndicates by allowing police to seize money that they suspect is linked to criminal activity. That authority is controversial because law enforcement can seize the money even if no one is charged with a crime, so it's possible for innocent people to lose their property.
"We encourage the Department of Justice to revise its civil asset forfeiture practices to reflect our nation's commitment to the rule of law and due process," Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah; Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.; Tom Udall, D-N.M.; and Angus King, I-Maine, wrote to Sessions.
Suspicion of the confiscations has created unusual alliances among liberals, libertarians, and conservatives, which is reflected in the list of senators on the letter. The ACLU argues that "many police departments use forfeiture to benefit their bottom lines, making seizures motivated by profit rather than crime-fighting." And the senators noted that conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas expressed skepticism of the practice in a recent opinion.
"You need not wait for Supreme Court censure before reforming these practices, and, in any event, the Department of Justice should err on the side of protecting constitutional rights," they wrote to Sessions.
Law enforcement groups maintain that civil asset forfeiture is a useful tool, however, and Sessions and President Trump have embraced traditional law-and-order Republican policies. When a group of sheriffs visited the White House in February, one complained that a state senator in Texas was trying to restrict the forfeitures.
"Who is the state senator? Want to give his name? We'll destroy his career," Trump cracked.