Garland rescinds Trump-era memo curtailing consent decrees

Attorney General Merrick Garland 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 Sessions issued a memo that limited the use of consent decrees, and his first Senate-confirmed successor, William Barr, 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 Biden’s nominee to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division, Kristen Clarke, 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.

Tags biden administration consent decrees deaths in police custody Derek Chauvin Donald Trump Freddie Gray George Floyd Jeff Sessions Joe Biden Justice Department Kristen Clarke Merrick Garland Michael Brown police brutality police departments police investigation police killings Police shootings Trump Administration William Barr

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