Former Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois, who died this morning in Chicago at the age of 83, was a friend of the Cato Institute who worked closely with us in our efforts to put a spotlight on the abuses flowing from America’s civil asset forfeiture law. A staunch defender of the war on drugs, Rep. Hyde saw nonetheless that not every tactic the government used in that war could be justified. In particular, the government’s seizure for itself of private property that merely “facilitated” a crime, often from completely innocent people, drove him to do whatever he could to end such abuses. He called hearings, at which Cato scholars were invited to testify. Then in 1995 Cato published his book, Forfeiting Our Property Rights: Is Your Property Safe from Seizure? The tone of the book was captured in its opening words:
Much of what you may have learned in school or college about your rights and liberties no longer applies. Increased government and police powers, rising criminal activity and violence, popular anxiety about drug use–all have become justifications for curtailing the application of the Bill of Rights and the individual security it once guaranteed.
The book was a ringing indictment of the government’s war on private property through the awful practice of civil asset forfeiture. More hearings followed its publication, culminating in a reform bill, which Hyde unveiled as the keynote speaker at a 1999 Cato conference. Hyde was tireless in shepherding the bill through both houses of Congress, fighting the Justice Department all the way, and in obtaining President Clinton’s signature. We will miss him.