Even Liberal Supreme Justices Moved to Curb States from Stealing Property and Imposing Big Fines

In a very important ruling, the entire U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the power of states and local government to impose high fines and from taking people’s property as punishment for supposed crimes.

This is a big deal, folks, because it reaffirms that governments do not have the right to financially ruin citizens for supposed crimes against the state.

Indeed, the unanimous ruling is interesting because even the liberal justices moved to curb the power of government whereas usually the liberals are always looking for ways to expand government power.

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In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled to drastically curb the powers that states and cities have to levy fines and seize property, marking the first time the court has applied the Constitution’s ban on excessive fines at the state level.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who returned to the court for the first time in almost two months after undergoing surgery for lung cancer, wrote the majority opinion in the case involving an Indiana man who had his Land Rover seized after he was arrested for selling $385 of heroin.

“Protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history for good reason: Such fines undermine other liberties,” Ginsburg wrote. “They can be used, e.g., to retaliate against or chill the speech of political enemies. They can also be employed, not in service of penal purposes, but as a source of revenue.”

Granted, I don’t believe for a minute that Ginsburg had any part in writing anything. The woman is a medical basket case. Still, it doesn’t matter if her staff wrote it and if she is insensible to the world because the vote was unanimous.

Further, “her” opinion (if it was really hers or not) is correct on the particulars.

But Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a second, supporting opinion and his ideas were even more relevant.

While the ruling was unanimous, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a separate opinion outlining different reasons for reaching the same conclusion — namely, that “the right to be free from excessive fines is one of the ‘privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States’ protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.” Ginsburg’s opinion was based on the due process clause of the same amendment.

So, what was this case about…

The Supreme Court, with its ruling, sent the case of Tyson Timbs back to a lower court to decide if Indiana officials went too far in seizing Timbs’ Land Rover. Timbs, who bought the Land Rover for $42,000 in January 2013, was arrested a few months later for selling heroin and pleaded guilty.

Timbs, who was sentenced to one year of home detention and five years of probation, argues that the forfeiture of his vehicle was disproportionate to the $10,000 maximum fine he faced for selling heroin.

This is a good ruling and will go a long way to reign in over stepping governments.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.

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