The Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously ruled that state and local governments are subject to constitutional prohibitions on “excessive fines” on citizens.
This decision will provide Americans robust constitutional protection against exorbitant fines imposed by local governments.
“For good reason, the protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history: Exorbitant tolls undermine other constitutional liberties,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote. “Excessive fines can be used, for example, to retaliate against or chill the speech of political enemies. . . . Even absent a political motive, fines may be employed in a measure out of accord with the penal goals of retribution and deterrence.”
The ruling is a big win for property rights. Civil asset forfeiture is a widespread and unjust practice that often affects the most vulnerable people in American society.
The Supreme Court’s ruling won’t end the practice, but it will limit the abuse. The rest of the work will be left up to states and local governments.
As I recently noted, 11 states—California, Connecticut, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, and Vermont—have laws that prevent law enforcement from seizing property from people who have not been convicted of a crime. Three states—North Carolina, New Mexico, and Nebraska—have abolished civil forfeiture entirely.
You can read more about the practice here:
Jonathan Miltimore is the Managing Editor of FEE.org. His writing/reporting has appeared in TIME magazine, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Forbes, Fox News, and the Washington Times. Reach him at jmiltimore@FEE.org.
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