Supreme Court Rules Against Excessive State Fines

The ruling potentially jeopardizes asset-forfeiture programs that help fund police programs

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that states may not impose excessive fines, extending a bedrock constitutional protection but potentially jeopardizing asset-forfeiture programs that help fund police operations with property seized from criminal suspects.

“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 for the court. “Excessive fines can be used, for example, to retaliate against or chill the speech of political enemies,” she continued, citing examples from English history tracing to the Magna Carta.

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment protection from excessive fines applied only to the federal government not the states. That initially was so after the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, but the U.S. Supreme Court long has held that the 14th Amendment, adopted after the Civil War to prevent states from infringing on individual rights, extended nearly all its protections to all levels of government.

Wednesday’s decision confirmed that the Eighth Amendment contained no exceptions. “The historical and logical case for concluding that the 14th incorporates the Excessive Fines Clause is overwhelming,” Justice Ginsburg wrote.

A Liberal’s Case for Brett Kavanaugh

today, with the exception of the current justices and Judge Garland, it is hard to name anyone with judicial credentials as strong as those of Judge Kavanaugh.

.. Several of Judge Kavanaugh’s most important ideas and arguments — such as his powerful defense of presidential authority to oversee federal bureaucrats and his skepticism about newfangled attacks on the property rights of criminal defendants — have found their way into Supreme Court opinions.

.. Except for Judge Garland, no one has sent more of his law clerks to clerk for the justices of the Supreme Court than Judge Kavanaugh has. And his clerks have clerked for justices across the ideological spectrum.

.. This studiousness is especially important for a jurist like Judge Kavanaugh, who prioritizes the Constitution’s original meaning. A judge who seeks merely to follow precedent can simply read previous judicial opinions. But an “originalist” judge — who also cares about what the Constitution meant when its words were ratified in 1788 or when amendments were enacted — cannot do all the historical and conceptual legwork on his or her own.

Judge Kavanaugh seems to appreciate this fact, whereas Justice Antonin Scalia, a fellow originalist, did not read enough history and was especially weak on the history of the Reconstruction amendments and the 20th-century amendments.

.. admirably confessing that some of the views he held 20 years ago as a young lawyer — including his crabbed understandings of the presidency when he was working for the Whitewater independent counsel, Kenneth Starr — were erroneous.

.. they could try to sour the hearings by attacking Judge Kavanaugh and looking to complicate the proceedings whenever possible.

This would be a mistake. Judge Kavanaugh is, again, a superb nominee.

.. pledge either to vote yes for Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation — or, if voting no, to first publicly name at least two clearly better candidates whom a Republican president might realistically have nominated instead (not an easy task).

 

Jeff Sessions: This Time, It’s Personal

Trump’s willful misunderstanding of the obligations of an Attorney General reflects a larger flaw in his Presidency and in his character.

Trump wasn’t taunting Sessions because of any policy differences between them but, rather, as usually seems to be the case with this President, for personal reasons. The core of the President’s grievance is that the Attorney General recused himself from the investigation into possible Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 election, thereby setting in motion the process that led to the appointment of Robert Mueller, the special counsel.

Sessions did the right thing; according to prosecutorial ethics, he cannot supervise a review of a campaign in which he played a prominent role. Trump’s willful misunderstanding of the obligations of an Attorney General reflects a larger flaw in his Presidency and in his character—his apparent belief that his appointees owe their loyalty to him personally, rather than to the nation’s Constitution and its laws, and, more broadly, to the American people.

.. no member of the Cabinet has worked more assiduously to advance Trump’s agenda than Sessions.

  • .. He has reversed the Obama Administration’s commitment to voting rights, which had been reflected in Justice Department lawsuits against voter-suppression laws in North Carolina and Texas.
  • He has changed an Obama-era directive to federal prosecutors to seek reasonable, as opposed to maximum, prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. Similarly,
  • he has revived a discredited approach to civil forfeiture, which will subject innocent people to the loss of their property.
  • He has also backed away from the effort, championed by his predecessors Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, to rein in and reform police departments, like the one in Ferguson, Missouri, that have discriminated against African-Americans.
  • .. Sessions has embraced the issue that first brought him and Trump together: the crackdown on immigration. Sessions’s subordinates have defended the President’s travel ban

.. No President in recent history has treated his Attorney General solely as a political, or even as a personal, functionary.

..  He had violated a principle that, until now, seemed inviolate: that the Attorney General serves the public, not the political interests of the President who appoints him.

..  On the Saturday night that Cox was fired, he said, “Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people” to decide. So it remains today. ♦

Jeff Sessions has done more for Trumpism than anyone. Trump still wants to ditch him.

Miller, once a Sessions acolyte, remains in the White House, his silence loudly suggesting that he’s content to let his old boss twist in the wind.

Over the past decade, conservatives have taken a hard look at criminal justice reform and concluded that our long-standing, tough-on-crime political war led to a system that was too punitive, too reflexive and too racially separate — to the point that just about the only bipartisan thing going in Washington right now is the joint bail reform initiative of conservatarian Sen. Rand Paul and San Francisco liberal Sen. Kamala Harris. But the Sessions Justice Department, consonant with the swaggering lock-’em-up rhetoric of the Trump campaign, has ordered federal prosecutors to aim for the toughest penalties in every case.

Non-Trump conservatives find the Sessions Justice Department’s expansive statism hard to swallow; his reiterationof the tried-and-failed War on Drugs is particularly repellent to those who claim to believe in federalism. Despite decades of Republicans advocating for power to flow back to the states and away from one-size-fits-all Washington regulatory and legal control, the “beleaguered” attorney general’s almost obsessive anti-drug crusade has focused on states that have passed marijuana decriminalization and legalization. Just the kind of showy but ineffective and unconservative policy that Trump routinely favors.

Sessions reversed an Obama-era reform that had been heralded across the political spectrum when he reapplied civil asset forfeiture regulations, allowing law enforcement agencies to seize property for people suspected of crimes — a move that law professor and conservative USA Today columnist Glenn Harlan Reynolds rightly argues is a message that “the feds see the rest of us as prey, not as citizens.”