The Supreme Court Rightly Cited the Black Codes in Ruling Against Excessive Fines, Fees, and Forfeitures

The justices held that the Eighth Amendment protects people from state and local authorities’ abusive reliance on monetary penalties to raise money. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a rare unanimous ruling in Timbs v. Indiana, holding for the first time that the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause applies to state and local governments — not just federal authorities.  The fact that this landmark decision is unanimous is itself remarkable. But it bears noting that in separate opinions, both Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Clarence Thomas acknowledge the historical context for the modern-day protection against excessive fines, fees, and forfeitures: southern states’ abuse of fines to enforce white supremacy in the years following the Civil War. The question presented by Timbs is whether the Excessive Fines Clause is incorporated by the 14th Amendment and therefore applicable to the states. When the Bill of Rights was adopted in…

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