Constitutional Law

Owner of Motel Cites 10th Amendment in Forfeiture Battle

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Guests at the Motel Caswell in Tewksbury, Mass., only pay $57 a night for a standard room without a heart-shaped tub, but the property is valuable to its owner, Russell Caswell.

Caswell is at the center of a 10th Amendment legal battle over forfeiture of the 56-room property stemming from guests’ drug dealing, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. Caswell himself has not been accused of wrongdoing.

The 10th Amendment is now a “hot area” in the debate over federal powers, according to associate professor Steven Schwinn of John Marshall Law School in Chicago. Nonetheless, he told the Wall Street Journal, the case could be difficult for Caswell to win.

The U.S. Justice Department is seeking to seize Caswell’s property with evidence supplied by the Tewksbury Police Department. In return, the local department could receive up to 80 percent of the money from the sale of the property in an “equitable sharing” program.

The public interest law firm representing Caswell, the Institute for Justice, contends the sharing program provides an incentive for local police to work with federal rather than state authorities, usurping state powers under the 10th Amendment. The law firm is citing a June decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that made it easier for individuals to raise 10th Amendment claims.

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