The U.S. Supreme Court took up two Alabama cases in which plaintiffs loaned their vehicles to people who were arrested on drug charges.

The vehicles were seized, but before they could be returned, the two plaintiffs, Halima Culley and Lena Sutton, filed class-action complaints in federal court seeking money damages. They claimed their due process rights were violated.

However, in a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit dismissed the case.

“The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed our previous victories in these cases,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said. “Law enforcement officers across Alabama work hard every day to keep their fellow citizens safe while respecting their constitutional rights. And the Court confirmed that those rights were respected.”

According to court documents, Culley loaned her car to her son, who was arrested in Satsuma and Sutton loaned her car to a friend, who was arrested in Leesburg. Both arrests were in 2019.

Marshall said the ruling protected traditional law enforcement power to seize contraband. He added that in any case where a car is involved, people who have their vehicles seized must undergo a proper process, which includes a hearing. He said the plaintiffs were given that opportunity within days of the vehicles being seized but they “still claimed a constitutional right to yet another hearing.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was among those dissenting.

“Instead of answering the question presented and then remanding to the lower court to apply the appropriate test, the majority instead holds that due process never requires a retention hearing,” she wrote. “The majority acknowledges that ‘the States and Congress have adopted a wide variety of approaches.’  Yet it prescribes a categorical constitutional rule for all of them. The Court today hamstrings federal courts from conducting a context-specific analysis in civil forfeiture schemes that are less generous than the one here.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the opinion of the Court, stating the issue was simple.

“When police seize and then seek civil forfeiture of a car that was used to commit a drug offense, the Constitution requires a timely forfeiture hearing,” he wrote. “The question here is whether the Constitution also requires a separate preliminary hearing to determine whether the police may retain the car pending the forfeiture hearing. This Court’s precedents establish that the answer is no: The Constitution requires a timely forfeiture hearing; the Constitution does not also require a separate preliminary hearing.”

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