Garland rescinds Trump-era memo curtailing consent decrees

Attorney General Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandCapitol riot fuels debate over domestic terror laws Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Biden officials testify that white supremacists are greatest domestic security threat MORE has officially revoked a Trump-era memo that limited the use of consent decrees by prosecutors in pushing for changes at police departments and other agencies in abuse and misconduct investigations. 

In a Friday memo to all U.S. attorneys and Justice Department leaders, Garland wrote that the agency will “return to the traditional process that allows the heads of litigating components to approve most settlement agreements, consent decrees, and the use of monitors in cases involving state and local governmental entities.” 

“This memorandum makes clear that the Department will use all appropriate legal authorities to safeguard civil rights and protect the environment, consistent with longstanding Departmental practice and informed by the expertise of the Department’s career workforce,” Garland said Friday. 


Consent decrees, court-approved legal agreements reached without litigation, have previously been used following civil rights investigations to force the implementation of mandated reforms. 

Such decrees followed the federal investigations into the Ferguson Police Department after the killing of Michael Brown and in Baltimore following the police custody death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.

In November 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOne quick asylum fix: How Garland can help domestic violence survivors Biden fills immigration court with Trump hires Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report MORE issued a memo that limited the use of consent decrees, and his first Senate-confirmed successor, William BarrBill BarrSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Lawyer for former officer charged in George Floyd death alleges witness coercion CNN legal analyst joins DOJ's national security division MORE, accused the Obama administration of overusing the legal agreements. 

Democrats have pushed back, arguing the move was part of a pattern of the Trump administration limiting the ability of the Justice Department’s civil rights division to conduct extensive probes of police departments. 

Conversations on civil rights issues and justice reform have gained increased momentum in the past year, especially in the civil unrest prompted by the police killings of George Floyd and other Black individuals. 


The defense team for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin rested its case this week in his ongoing murder trial in connection with Floyd’s death. 

Chauvin, who was captured in graphic footage from last May kneeling on Floyd’s neck for roughly nine minutes, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, confirming that he would not testify. 

Democrats have hoped that President BidenJoe Biden28 Senate Democrats sign statement urging Israel-Hamas ceasefire Franklin Graham says Trump comeback would 'be a very tough thing to do' Schools face new pressures to reopen for in-person learning MORE’s nominee to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division, Kristen ClarkeKristen ClarkeSenate panel deadlocks over Biden pick to lead DOJ civil rights division Major unions support Clarke to lead DOJ civil rights division Senate confirms Biden's nominee for No. 2 official at DOJ MORE, will help revive the department’s justice reform efforts, including the use of consent decrees to ensure oversight of police departments accused of systemic misconduct.