President Trump’s obvious lack of understanding of the abuse of civil asset forfeiture by some police agencies, displayed last week in a White House meeting with county sheriffs, prompts the New Yorker to wonder just how much damage he could do to nascent law enforcement reforms. Guided by one of the sheriffs, Trump improvised a position that opposition to forfeitures must be “political.” Yet a small but growing bipartisan group of state and federal lawmakers have come together to insist on forfeiture reforms that aid due process. A study by the Cato Institute suggests that 84 percent of U.S. residents oppose civil forfeiture.
Some 20 states have enacted forfeiture reforms since 2014, including Florida and California. His meeting with the sheriffs raises the question of whether Trump can thwart not just forfeiture fixes but broader justice system overhauls. So far, Trump has offered a criminal justice platform ripped from the 1980s. But presidents have never controlled all the critical levers of American justice. The current push to end mass incarceration and to uphold due process emerged largely from local initiatives.