Forfeiture Reform Legislation: Will it be Now, or Never?

Written by Leon Felkins

on May 7, 1999
(Revised October 20, 1999)


Note: The Forfeiture Reform Bill was finally passed and signed into law by the president. This page is provided for historical and reference purposes, now. Some material here is no longer pertinent.
On May 3, 1999, at the Cato sponsored conference, "Forfeiture Reform: Now, or Never?", Representative Henry Hyde announced that he was, once again, introducing Forfeiture Reform legislation to Congress. For six years, he has been trying to get legislation passed that would provide some relief against federal forfeiture abuses.[1] He has repeatedly hit a wall of opposition from various government agencies and politicians who feel they would have a lot to lose if his bill passed.

He is giving it one more shot. I hope all of you will join me in giving all the support you can to the passage of this bill. The fact that the "Know Your Customer" affront to our liberties was turned back by the "Netters" proves that we have such power!

The purpose of this document is to provide you with background material on forfeiture abuse, resources for further information, and suggestions on what you should do about it.

Update on Forfeiture Reform Legislative Effort

After overwhelming approval of Representative Hydes bill, H.R. 1658, the bill was sent to the Senate's Judiciary Committee. And there it has set to this date. Even with an almost 10 to 1 approval by the House, the Senate's leaders have indicated that this bill will never pass the Senate in its current form (see the Cato Forfeiture Conference proceedings at

To achieve this end, the strategy used to kill forfeiture reform that was so effective in the House for so many years, will now be used in the Senate: substitute a "trojan horse" bill with the same name! To that end the "Gang of Four" -- Feinstein, Cleland, Schumer, and Biden -- who's obsessions seem to be "Give Nazism a chance in America", has taken the DOJ authored bill, originally presented to the House as HR 1965, moved a few words around and submitted it to the committee as S. 1701, "Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 1999". So now we have a bill that makes matters worse with essentially the same title as Hyde's bill that would have curbed Asset Forfeiture. It is not hard to see that by this ploy, we could very well end up with a bill that increases the evils of forfeiture, while all along the public is thinking that genuine reduction of forfeiture abuse is its goal.

The text of this bill, along with a detailed analysis has been put online by Brenda Grantland at the FEAR site.

Now when you are through with digesting all that and taking of appropriate action, you can get back to the other civil liberties that have been beat to a pulp! They need your help too.

1. Bills introduced by Rep. Hyde for forfeiture reform:

2. See Chapter 3 of the Asset Forfeiture Law and Practice Manual by the U.S. Department of Justice, June, 1998.

3. Robert Bauman, former Congressman and present member of FEAR's board of directors, provides the following sage advice:

Just a word of advice: As a former Member of Congress myself, I can tell you that volume mail, (or email) on an issue counts for far less than a well-written personal letter or email, however brief. It's OK to use the ACLU letter as a guide, but personal letters or emails are far more impressive than a copy-cat message that comes in by the hundreds. Such messages are usually tied in a stack with a "total received" number on them, or just summarized as a number on a mail tally sheet.

Even more impressive is a visit to the congressman's home district office, or a phone call to that office and to Washington. If the call is made to the Washington office, a person should ask for the congressman's "Legislative Affairs Assistance" who handles the forfeiture issue. The caller should state that he or she is a registered voter in the (whatever) district of (state) and wants the congressman to support the bill. They should also ask for a written reply from the congressman in which he states his position.

Back to the Forfeiture Reform page.
Back to my Forfeiture page.