This article appeared in the February 20, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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The other Supreme Court you don’t hear about

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Visitors wait to enter the Supreme Court Feb. 20. In a case involving civil forfeiture, the high court ruled unanimously that the Constitution’s ban on excessive fines applies to the states.

In a hyperpartisan era, it can be easy to think of the United States Supreme Court as little more than a biased referee for partisan grudge matches. Wednesday was not one of those days.

The case involved the police seizure of a man’s Land Rover after he was caught selling a few hundred dollars’ worth of heroin. But it really went to whether a specific kind of 1980s tough-on-crime law had been warped beyond recognition.

State seizure laws allowed cops to take suspects’ money, car, or home even before charging them with a crime. The intent was to prevent drug lords from using ill-gotten millions to avoid justice. But Timbs v. Indiana considered whether something more venal and insidious had crept in.

Time and again, the Founders sought to protect individual liberties against government intrusion. So as state seizure laws expanded, bringing in billions of dollars in revenue, justices grew troubled. In oral arguments, Justice Neil Gorsuch asked the Indiana solicitor general: “Here we are in 2018, still litigating incorporation of the Bill of Rights. Really? Come on, General.”

The justices struck down the laws unanimously Wednesday. Even at a time when so much is contested, the ruling was a window into a shared sense of fairness and honesty that, in some cases, is not all that controversial.

Now here are our five stories for today, which touch on  views of power in Washington, an attempt to prevent one country from becoming the smoking capital of the world, and how a camera lens changed lives in Nigeria.

This article appeared in the February 20, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 02/20 edition
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