The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a win Wednesday to a former heroin addict who argued that Indiana's seizure of his $42,000 Land Rover amounted to an excessive fine for a drug conviction.
In a unanimous ruling, the justices for the first time incorporated the 8th Amendment's protection against excessive fines to the states. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who delivered the court's opinion, wrote that the safeguard is "fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty."
Ginsburg returned to the court Friday after nearly two months working from home during recovery from December cancer surgery. On Tuesday, she appeared on the bench for the first time since early December.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch did not sign onto Ginsburg's opinion, although each agreed with the majority's conclusion. The two conservatives would have taken a different legal route to get there, they wrote.
Wednesday's opinion marks an important extension of the top court's application of Bill of Rights protections to the states.
Most of the Bill of Rights was incorporated decades ago. Even other provisions of the 8th Amendment have been held to apply to the states before, such as its protections against excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment.
But the incorporation of the amendment's excessive fines clause marks a particularly notable development at a time when many municipalities are relying on fines and fees as a growing source of revenue, causing consternation among civil rights groups who say the penalties disproportionately hurt minorities and the poor.