Review of A License to Steal: The Forfeiture of Property, by Leonard W. Levy.

Adam C. Pritchard, University of Michigan Law School


During the Constitution's ratification debates, a Pennsylvanian writing under the pseudonym "Old Whig" described civil-forfeiture proceedings as "modes of harassing the subject." He recognized that such proceedings "are undoubtedly objects highly alluring to a government. They fill the public coffers and enable government to reward its minions at a cheap rate." Old Whig's wary assessment of civil forfeiture—the government's practice of seizing property suspected of wrongful use—rings as true today as it did in 1787. Leonard Levy'sA License to Steal catalogs numerous instances of property seizures that, on almost any scale of justice, amount to criminal behavior by government agencies. Consider, for example, Bully Munnerlyn's fate.