Timbs Supreme Court Case: Amicus Briefs Stack Up Against Excessive Fines

In late November or early December, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Timbs v. State of Indiana, a case that will decide whether the U.S. Constitution’s protection against excessive fines applies to state and local governments, just as it has applied to the federal government since 1791. The case involves the forfeiture of a $42,000 vehicle for a crime involving a few hundred dollars. The Indiana Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause applies to only the federal government and does not apply at all to state and local authorities.

“Our client, Tyson Timbs, has already paid his debt to society,” said Wesley Hottot, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which is representing Timbs. “He’s taken responsibility for what he’s done. He’s paid fees. He’s in drug treatment. He’s holding down a job. He’s staying clean. But the State of Indiana wants to take his property, too, and give the proceeds to the agency that seized it. As we explained in our merits brief, there are limits, and this forfeiture crosses the line. We are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the Indiana Supreme Court’s ruling. This case is about more than just a vehicle; it’s about whether 330 million Americans get to enjoy their rights under the U.S. Constitution.”

Nineteen amicus (or “friend-of-the-court”) briefs have been filed thus far in Timbs. Among the more notable amici are:

  • The ACLU, R-Street Institute, Fines and Fees Justice Center and Southern Poverty Law Center, which submitted a brief that examines the effect of excessive fines and fees on the poor, as well as the use of fees to raise revenue for the government.
  • The American Bar Association’s brief examines how the Excessive Fines Clause protects equality of justice under the law.
  • The Constitutional Accountability Center’s brief spotlights the history of the passage of the 14th Amendment, and abuse of fines and forfeitures in post-Civil War southern states.
  • The DKT Liberty Project, Cato Institute, Goldwater Institute, Due Process Institute, Federal Bar Association Civil Rights Section and Texas Public Policy Foundation’s brief examines the abuses of forfeiture, fines, and plea bargaining.
  • The Drug Policy Alliance, NAACP, Americans for Prosperity, Brennan Center for Justice, FreedomWorks Foundation, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, and others’ brief examines the history of civil forfeiture and how it came to be.
  • Three prominent scholars of the Eighth Amendment submitted a neutral brief that provides a deep dive into the history behind the Excessive Fines Clause, going back to Magna Carta.
  • The Institute for Free Speech’s brief documents the danger of excessive fines for technical violations of campaign finance laws.
  • The Juvenile Law Center and 40 other organizations filed a brief that chronicles the harsh effects of excessive fines on juveniles in the criminal justice system.
  • The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund’s brief provide a history of the 14th Amendment and asks the Court to revisit cases where it declined to incorporate portions of the Bill of Rights against the states.
  • The Pacific Legal Foundation’s brief documents abusive fines by state and local governments.
  • A collection of scholars, represented by UCLA School of Law Professor Eugene Volokh, filed a brief that discusses how excessive fines impact the poor.
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a brief that examines how state attorneys general and other state and local government agencies impose excessive fines on businesses to raise revenue and even for political reasons.

Opposition amici in the case are due October 11.

The Institute for Justice released a high-resolution video news release that recounts Tyson Timbs’ battle to get his vehicle back and to extend constitutional protections against excessive fines across the entire United States.

Federal Court Dismisses North Carolina Forfeiture Case “With” Prejudice, Rejecting Government’s Attempt to Evade Attorneys’ Fees


This week a federal court handed down a long-awaited decision vindicating Lyndon McLellan in his fight against the IRS.

Lyndon’s case came to the nation’s attention after the IRS seized his entire bank account in July 2014 using civil forfeiture for the innocent act of depositing his hard-earned money in the bank in amounts under $10,000. The Institute for Justice took Lyndon’s case to clear his name and get back his property, and in June 2015, the government finally returned Lyndon’s money.

In returning Lyndon’s money, however, the government sought to avoid its obligation under federal law to pay Lyndon’s attorneys’ fees, costs, and interest. Lyndon racked up nearly $20,000 in fees owed to his accountant and lawyer before the Institute for Justice took his case on a pro bono basis.

The district court’s decision rejected the government’s maneuver, stating:

Certainly, the damage inflicted upon an innocent person or business is immense when, although it has done nothing wrong, its money and property are seized. Congress, acknowledging the harsh realities of civil forfeiture practice, sought to lessen the blow to innocent citizens who have had their property stripped from them by the Government. . . . This court will not discard lightly the right of a citizen to seek the relief Congress has afforded.

“Today’s decision recognizes that Lyndon should not have to pay for the government’s outrageous use of civil forfeiture laws against a totally innocent property owner,” said IJAttorney Robert Everett Johnson. “The government took Lyndon’s property even though he did nothing wrong, forcing him into a prolonged and expensive legal nightmare. Now the government will have to comply with its obligation to make Lyndon at least partly whole.”

The decision comes just as the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit prepares to consider the government’s similar attempt to avoid paying fees, costs, and interest to Carole Hinders—an Iowa restaurant owner who also had her entire bank account seized and then returned. The Eighth Circuit will hold oral argument in that case onFebruary 9 in St. Paul, MN.

“The government cannot turn a citizen’s life upside down and then walk away as if nothing happened,” said IJ Attorney Wesley Hottot, who will argue the case for Carole Hinders. “Now that Lyndon has been vindicated, we look forward to holding the government to account in Carole’s case as well.”

IRS caught violating its own civil forfeiture policy

Lyndon McLellan has spent more than a decade running L&M Convenience Mart, a gas station, restaurant and convenience store in rural Fairmont, North Carolina. Then, almost one year ago, agents from the IRS came to the store and announced that they had seized his entire bank account, totaling more than $107,000. Yesterday, April 30, 2015, the Institute for Justice (IJ), a national public interest law firm leading the fight to end civil forfeiture, filed court documents contesting the IRS’s forfeiture of Lyndon’s money.


GivingTuesday at Institute for Justice doubles donors’ impact only for today


Today, December 2, 2014, the Institute for Justice is participating in GivingTuesday, a global day of giving designed to celebrate philanthropy.

A generous IJ donor has offered to match dollar-for-dollar each donation given to IJ during this year’s GivingTuesday event. This means that every gift will go twice as far in the fight for everyday heroes like IJ clients Russ Caswell and the monks of St. Joseph Abbey.

IJ’s GivingTuesday matching grant challenge starts at 12:00 a.m. and ends at 11:59 p.m. tomorrow, December 2, 2014.

GivingTuesday at Institute for Justice doubles donors' impact only for today


Today, December 2, 2014, the Institute for Justice is participating in GivingTuesday, a global day of giving designed to celebrate philanthropy.

A generous IJ donor has offered to match dollar-for-dollar each donation given to IJ during this year’s GivingTuesday event. This means that every gift will go twice as far in the fight for everyday heroes like IJ clients Russ Caswell and the monks of St. Joseph Abbey.

IJ’s GivingTuesday matching grant challenge starts at 12:00 a.m. and ends at 11:59 p.m. tomorrow, December 2, 2014.

Movie rights purchased in Supreme Court Kelo case

Susette Kelo—the working class nurse who lost her waterfront home in an epic U.S. Supreme Court battle—has lived a life that reads like a Hollywood movie, and now that is exactly what it will become. Today, June 23, 2014 marks the 9th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s rulling in the Kelo case.

Producers Ted and Courtney Balaker of Korchula Productions today announced they purchased the movie rights to the book “Little Pink House,” which documented the behind-the-scenes story behind the Kelo fight against eminent domain abuse, and they also purchased the life rights to Kelo’s personal story. With those rights secured, the script ready, and funding expected to be completed this year, Korchula Productions plans to move forward with casting and move into production of the theatrical movie in the spring of 2015. Next year marks the 10th anniversary of the infamous ruling in Kelo v City of New London, a much-despised decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government could take the homes of ordinary Americans and hand the land over to another private party for the mere promise that the new project would raise more money in taxes.

Read the rest of the article here.

Ferry brothers will not be heard by the Supereme Court

Today, June 2, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of a case challenging a nearly century-old, government-imposed ferry monopoly on Lake Chelan in central Washington state. The appeal, filed by the Institute for Justice on behalf of brothers Jim and Cliff Courtney, raised important questions concerning the scope of protection that the U.S. Constitution provides for the economic rights of ordinary Americans. The Court’s refusal to hear the appeal lets stand a terrible 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision wholly dismissive of economic rights.

Read the rest of the story here.

IRS declines to seek U.S. Supreme Court review of ruling

Today, May 13, 2014, three independent tax-return preparers’ victory over the IRS became final, after the agency declined to file a petition seeking review from the U.S. Supreme Court. The lapse of the deadline marks the conclusion of a two-year battle over whether the IRS had the authority under the “Horse Act” of 1884—a statute passed to govern compensation claims for dead horses brought on behalf of Civil War veterans—to impose a nationwide licensing scheme on tax preparers.

Read the full story here.


Georgia families intervene in lawsuit involving scholarship program

Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ) filed a motion on behalf of four Georgia families to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Georgia’s Scholarship Tax-Credit Program, which provides scholarships for children to attend private school for grades Pre-K to 12th grade. In intervening in the lawsuit, IJ’s motion ensures that the interests of the families who rely on the program are properly represented as the case proceeds. Included in today’s filings was also the Institute’s motion seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed.


Read rest of the story here.


Since its inception six years ago, the scholarship program has proven immensely popular. It currently provides scholarships to more than 13,000 students, making it the fourth largest school choice program in the country.

Photo Courtesy of Institute for Justice

Florida craft brewery bill likely to fail in Florida House

Although Florida Senate Bill 1714 passed in the Florida Senate yesterday, April 29, 2014, its four comparison bills will not likely see the light of day before the Florida legislature ends its session later this week. Speaking about the legislation, Florida House Speaker Bill Weatherford stated, “That bill has an uphill battle in the House.” Read the rest of the story here. growlers-salt-water-brewers

 Photo from Salt Water Brewery in Delray Beach, Florida.

12 best libertarian advocacy organizations

Many libertarians and libertarian-minded Americans have various organizations bookmarked in their web browsers. Others who may not have identified themselves as ‘libertarian’ may be surprised to learn they are libertarian as they search for other labels for themselves other than liberal or conservative. As we wrote yesterday, Americans have been disassociating themselves from both the Democratic and Republican parties, so they may be looking for a political party, like the Libertarian Party which may be closer to their point of view.

Read rest of story here.