The History of Forfeiture Law and the Blinders of "Crises"

The Constitution is the rock of our political salvation; it is the palladium of our rights; . . . [but] when the [government] pursues a favorite object with passionate enthusiasm, men are too apt, in their eager embrace of it, to overlook the means by which it is attained. These are the melancholy occasions when the barriers of the government are broken down and the boundaries of the Constitution defaced.

—Junius Americanus, 1790

Nothing arouses men’s passions as much as fear does. The tactics of Hitler and Stalin illustrate what a powerful tool fear can be for inflaming the passions of the populace in an effort to grab more power at the expense of institutional constraints. That such a fear exists in today’s American society is illustrated by a variety of polls indicating the majority view toward crime, its control, and the appropriate governmental response. One poll indicates that, by a three-to-one margin, Americans feel that it is more important to "take any step necessary" to stop the use of drugs than to "protect civil liberties." It is precisely when passions run high that constitutional restraints on majority action become critical and require a vigilant defense.