It was heartening to see so many conservatives criticize Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ new proposal to expand the use of civil asset forfeiture, a policy that allows government to seize the private property of citizens without any judicial oversight or genuine due process. The notion that government doesn’t need to prove guilt before dispensing with punishment is the bailiwick of authoritarians.
And, quite often, Democrats.
With all the well-earned criticism of Sessions, let’s not forget that less than a year ago John Lewis and many other Democrats conducted a congressional sit-in to fight for legislation that would have stripped Americans who were placed on secret government watch lists — hundreds of thousands of them; many who had never been convicted, much less accused, of any crime — of their constitutional right to bear arms. Even the American Civil Liberties Union argued that policies based on flawed terror lists would undermine civil liberties.
This didn’t stop Sen. Chris Murphy from holding a 15-hour scaremongery filibuster to offer Americans a grossly distorted false choice: give up the Fifth Amendment or see your children die. It was then that Minority Leader Harry Reid called the existence of due process for at least a million Americans on these lists, often placed there without explanation, a “terror loophole.” And it was then that Sen. Joe Manchin went on Joe Scarborough — another person whose concern for the Constitution ebbs and flows with the vagaries of the moment — to claim that “due process is what’s killing us right now.” It was the Obama administration that had instituted new rules that banned Americans with disabilities — millions of citizens who absolutely pose no risk to anyone — from their constitutional rights, as well.
Not even this was enough for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who proposed legislation that would not only restrict Americans on watchlists today but anyone who had been on any watch list for the past five years and anyone who had traveled to Middle Eastern countries like Iraq or Syria during that time. So, using their own arguments regarding Donald Trump’s travel ban, they wanted to strip Muslims of their rights.
And Democrats wanted to leave discretion on implementing this list to the Justice Department. For now, at least, Sessions runs the Justice Department. This, no doubt, was unexpected. Still, to recap, the Democratic Party proposed legislation that would have empowered the Trump administration to put any citizen it deemed suspicious into a government database for any reason it chose and treat them as a suspected terrorist. And it was the Democratic Party that empowered the Trump administration to deny these citizens an individual right explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution and upheld by the Supreme Court.
I know it’s considered intellectually vulgar to bring up past liberal transgressions in the Age of Trump, but I always recall this episode when I see Democrats feigning concern for the rule of law or the sanctity of process. Now, after the 2016 presidential election, you’d think that they would have learned that preserving the process benefits them, as well. They did not.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is now the target of liberal ire for proposing to fix the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights adjudication of campus sexual assault. DeVos has promised to return the office “to its role as a neutral, impartial, investigative agency” because over the past years it has “descended into a pattern of overreaching, of setting out to punish and embarrass institutions rather than work with them to correct civil rights violations and of ignoring public input prior to issuing new rules.”
The Obama administration’s DOE had sent a “Dear Colleague” letter in 2011 to colleges and universities around the country asking them (by which we mean directing them) to adjudicate sexual assault and misconduct cases under Title IX not by a “clear and convincing evidence” standard but by a “preponderance of evidence.” The letter also “strongly” discouraged cross-examination of alleged victims — which is often the most effective way of ferreting out lying — because it “may be traumatic or intimidating” to the alleged victim. The new standards also allowed accusers to appeal “not guilty” findings and permitted punishment to be meted out before any investigation was even conducted.
36 Democratic Party senators were “extraordinarily disappointed and alarmed” by this proposal that would restore fundamental fairness and basic due process to schools.
Setting aside the fact that scores of young men have had their lives destroyed by false claims, it should be noted that the basic tenets of due process aid the victims, as well. Not only by protecting their rights, in general, but by creating a system that makes sure their accusations will not be doubted. Now, I see that some Republicans have risen to criticize their own administration on the civil asset forfeiture issue. Are there any notable Democrats who will stand up to their own party’s horrible record on due process?