As in the case of drug legalization, asset forfeiture reform is a cause long-championed by libertarians, which has recently hit the mainstream. The Institute for Justice, a prominent libertarian public interest law firm, has highlighted the issue for years, and is currently spearheading both legal and legislative challenges to the system. Similarly, libertarians have for decades advocated abolishing the War on Drugs; at times, they were almost the only ones doing so, with the exception of a few on the far left. But only recently has this idea begun to attract widespread mainstream public and elite support.
Obviously, the two issues are integrally linked. As the Post series notes, the War on Drugs is one of the leading causes of asset forfeiture abuse. The Post article correctly emphasizes that much of the seized property is taken as a result of law enforcement operations undertaken as part of the War on Drugs. The threat that the War on Drugs poses to the property rights of innocent people is yet another reason for conservatives, among others, to rethink their traditional support for it.
While libertarians have successfully helped put these issues on the political agenda, it remains to be seen whether they and their new allies on the left and right will be able to push through effective reforms. In both cases, there is a danger that newfound public interest in the issue will be quiesced by merely cosmetic changes that only marginally improve the situation. And, obviously, the majority of non-libertarians do not – so far – fully endorse the libertarian approach to these issues, which calls for the complete abolition of both civil asset forfeiture and the War on Drugs. Still, the two cases are dramatic examples of previously marginalized libertarian ideas becoming a part of mainstream political discourse.
NOTE: I have written amicus briefs on behalf of the Institute for Justice on various other property rights issues. But I have not been involved in their asset forfeiture cases.