End of Activist Use of Consent Decrees to Police Law Enforcement Under Trump-Sessions?

The Justice Department has sought to reform police practices considered discriminatory by any means necessary. This has frequently involved the use of a statutory weapon. This has been sought to be implemented for the past eight years but is little known by the public and less well understood.


In the aftermath of the Los Angeles Rodney King riots, the DOJ “consent decree” was established. It allows the department’s Civil Rights Division the right to sue local police forces that have a pattern and practice of violating people’s rights or the use of excessive force.

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama wrote in the ‘foreword’ to a 2008 report from the Alabama Policy Institute, “One of the most dangerous, and rarely discussed, exercises of raw power is the issuance of expansive court decrees.  Consent decrees have a profound effect on our legal system as they constitute an end run around the democratic process.”

The decree works like this. After a high profile incident, for instance, the 2014 shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and Laquan McDonald in Chicago, the DOJ launches an investigation into a police department’s operations.

The feds sue if they find that the departments operate with an ongoing pattern of abuse. This effectively forces the law enforcement groups to settle the cases. They then can undergo a change to their culture to a degree deemed sufficient by the court and the DOJ.

Nearly two dozen investigations have been launched against various law enforcement agencies under President Obama and his two attorney generals. Though some investigations are still open, the number is close to the number under the Bush administration.

Four times as many consent decrees have been issued under the Obama DOJ than the Bush DOJ.

President-elect Donald Trump has indicated to Sessions to replace Lynch as attorney general. In Sessions’ opinion consent decrees are dangerous. I seems that the activist approach taken by the current administration will be over on January 20th.

J. Christian Adams, election law expert and president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, told, “I think he will follow the law. He won’t abuse federal power. I think he will not turn law enforcement into an exercise in grandstanding. In other words, he won’t behave like his previous two predecessors.”

Eric Holder, who felt the Civil Rights Division was the “crown jewel” and his six years were spent rebuilding it.

During Obama’s first term, the DOJ report listed the division’s accomplishments as a record number of “court enforceable agreements” which led to six jurisdictions being: New Orleans, Seattle, Puerto Rico, East Haven in Connecticut, Arizona’s Maricopa County and Alamance County, N.C.

Holder is quoted as saying, “For today’s Department of Justice, our commitment to strengthening, and to fulfilling, our nation’s promise of equal opportunity and equal justice has never been stronger.”

The recent agreements are better known to the public but some are not and many have not seen a resolution.

Since 2010, 6 out of 19 investigations are considered ongoing and they include:

– A December 2015 investigation into allegations of excessive force and discriminatory policing in the Chicago Police Department after a black teenager, Laquan McDonald, was shot and killed by an officer. The incident led then-Superintendent Garry McCarthy to resign after documents pertinent to the case were suppressed.

– An investigation against the Orange County, CA, Sheriff’s Department for violation of due process. The probe began in December 2015 after years of numerous allegations that prosecutors and deputies were abusing their power in order to lock down convictions.

– A case opened in April 2015 against the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office and Ville Platte Police Department in Louisiana about the alleged improper use of detentions and violations of the Fourth Amendment.

law-1-insideCivil rights activists are bracing for the division a more limited role in the coming years, according to the LA Times.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told the Times.  “Jeff Sessions has a decades-long record, from his early days as a prosecutor to his present role as a senator, of opposing civil rights and equality. It is unimaginable that he could be entrusted to serve as the chief law enforcement officer for this nation’s civil rights laws.”

There are other who believe that Sessions will restore professionalism at the Justice Department.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told the paper, “He will restore honor to a department that, under President Obama, perpetually pushed a political agenda while neglecting to enforce the law. It’s time to end the politicization of the Justice Department and start defending the rule of law.”


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