How the Feds Are Using Civil Asset Forfeiture to Threaten Free Speech

Prosecutors are ignoring the Constitution and legal precedent in their zeal to punish the founders and former staff of Backpage, by seizing money and other assets that stem from protected speech and legal activity.

In general, as the Supreme Court held in Fort Wayne Books, Inc. v. Indiana (1989), the Fourth Amendment says that “any and all contraband, instrumentalities, and evidence of crimes may be seized upon probable cause.” But this changes “when materials presumptively protected by the First Amendment are involved.”

Nonetheless, federal prosecutors are arguing that they’re entitled to all money made by Backpage, even proceeds derived from unquestionably legal ads, and that decades worth of earnings made by former Backpage leaders before the website even existed are also tainted.