On his way out, Sessions limits Justice’s use of consent decrees

PBS News

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in one of his final acts as the nation’s top cop, curtailed the ability of law enforcement officials to use court-enforced agreements to create change within local police departments accused of civil rights violations.

Consent decrees are often used to enforce an agreement between the Justice Department and a local police department to address a violation of law. They were used more frequently under the Obama administration to resolve civil rights violations by police departments and more broadly modify police practices across the country. 

{mosads}The memorandum, which Sessions signed shortly before President Trump effectively fired him, “provides guidance on the limited circumstances in which such a consent decree may be appropriate” and “limits the terms for consent decrees and settlement agreements with state and local governmental entities, including terms requiring the use of monitors; and amends the process for the approval of these mechanisms in cases in which they are permissible.”

As attorney general, Sessions had long vowed to pull back on the use of consent decrees. Shortly after taking office, he ordered a review of existing consent decrees, including those with multiple police departments involved in high-profile killings of unarmed black men. 

The memorandum lists three requirements for consent decrees, including that political appointees (rather than lawyers) must sign off on the deals, defendants must provide evidence of violations beyond constitutional behavior and the order must have an expiration date instead of being terminated when the department in question shows improvement.

The decision reflects Trump and Sessions’s belief that law enforcement agencies are unjustly hamstrung by civil rights lawyers and “political correctness.”

Trump has long railed against what he sees as a rhetorical assault on the police following criticism over shootings of unarmed black men.

“The police in our country are not appreciated. We do not give them the kind of respect that they have to have. Sure, there’ll be a bad apple, there’ll be a bad thing happen and it ends up on the news for two weeks and everybody hates the police. The fact is, they do an incredible job. We have to give them more authority, and we have to give them far more respect. … They do a fantastic job, we have to appreciate and respect our police,” he said in a Facebook video during his presidential campaign.

Tags Donald Trump Jeff Sessions
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