Jordan signals Judiciary focus on school board memo under GOP rule

(AP Photo/Tom E. Puskar)
Rep. Jim Jordan, U.S. Representative for Ohio’s 4th Congressional District, speaks at a campaign rally in Youngstown, Ohio., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Tom E. Puskar)

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has asked the Department of Justice to preserve documents tied to its school board directive, a sign of how House Judiciary Committee Republicans will direct their energy if the GOP regains control of the House.

Attorney General Merrick Garland signed the memo in October of last year, noting a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff” amid broader discussion over COVID-19 policies and how issues like race and gender are addressed at school.

The memo largely encouraged coordination, asking the FBI to convene meetings with local law enforcement in the following 30 days to discuss how to respond to threats of violence.

Though little resulted from the memo, Republicans have remained laser-focused on the directive, with House Judiciary Republicans by their own count sending more than 100 letters to the Justice Department on the matter.

In a Tuesday letter to Garland obtained by The Hill, Jordan, the panel’s ranking member, said the “anti-parent directive remains in effect, and as a result, the threat of federal law enforcement continues to chill the First Amendment rights of American parents.”

He asked the Justice Department to preserve any documents related to the numerous requests they’ve sent for information — a common request from minority leadership without subpoena power.

Jordan said that in response to the more than 100 requests, the Republicans had gotten just “two half-page letters” and no documents.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

Jordan has repeatedly called the memo part of a “case study” for how the committee views its oversight role.

It would be one of a number of probes where Republicans have vowed to up the ante if they take over the House, along with a focus on the border, the Afghanistan withdrawal and Hunter Biden.

The memo has been a headache for the Justice Department and the National School Boards Association since shortly after its release.

The group sent a letter to the White House the week before Garland’s memo was released, laying out a spate of incidents at recent school board meetings, noting that some threats “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”

The ensuing political storm caused the National School Boards Association to issue a statement saying its members “regret and apologize for the letter.”

“There was no justification for some of the language included in the letter. We should have had a better process in place to allow for consultation on a communication of this significance,” the group wrote later that month.

Jordan has suggested that the Biden administration coordinated with the National School Boards Association to craft the policy, accusing them without evidence during a recent Fox News appearance of encouraging a “pretext to go after parents.”

The initial letter from the National School Boards Association references a meeting with the White House and the Department of Education, and asks for the Justice Department to review whether the threats may violate a number of different federal laws.

The Justice Department memo fell far short of what the group was asking for, however, stressing “coordination and partnership” with local law enforcement over any legal review.

But Jordan’s letter said the Justice Department’s response has not “alleviate[d] our concerns.”

“We intend to continue to pursue this serious misuse of federal law-enforcement resources,” Jordan wrote.

While Jordan has said the policy has a chilling effect on free speech, a D.C.-based federal judge last month dismissed a suit from parents in Michigan and Virginia, saying the memo does not impact constitutionally protected conduct.

“The alleged AG Policy is not regulatory, proscriptive, or compulsory in nature because it does not impose any regulations, requirements, or enforcement actions on individuals. None of the documents that the plaintiffs allege establish the policy create an imminent threat of future legal actions against anyone, much less the plaintiffs,” Judge Dabney Friedrich wrote in the September opinion.

“The Attorney General’s memorandum does not apply to the plaintiffs’ activities, and even if it did, the policy does not label anyone a domestic terrorist, as the plaintiffs suggest,” Friedrich added.

This story was updated at 3:49 p.m.

Tags House Judiciary Committee Jim Jordan Jim Jordan Justice Department Merrick Garland National School Boards Association
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