For the last eight years, the Justice Department has sought to reform police practices considered discriminatory by any means necessary – something that has frequently involved the use of a statutory weapon that is little known by the public and even less well understood, reported Perry Chiaramonte, a Fox News reporter.
The origin of the “consent decree” goes back to the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots in 1992 the erupted after the Rodney King incident. This area of law allows the Civil Rights Division to sue local police and sheriff departments that have been found to have a culture of violating civil rights or engaged in excessive force.
When used as political leverage, it’s abusive.
“One of the most dangerous, and rarely discussed, exercises of raw power is the issuance of expansive court decrees,” Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama wrote in the forward to a 2008 report from the Alabama Policy Institute. “Consent decrees have a profound effect on our legal system as they constitute an end run around the democratic process.”
Chiaramonte articulated the exercise of the decree this way:
The DOJ launches an investigation into a police department’s operations, frequently after a high-profile incident – such as the 2014 shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, and Laquan McDonald in Chicago.
If the feds find that the departments operate with an ongoing pattern of abuse, they sue, effectively forcing the law enforcement groups to settle the cases and undergo a change to their culture to a degree deemed sufficient by the court and the DOJ.
Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder considered his initiative with the civil rights division to be the “crown jewel” of the Justice Department, according to the Fox report.
Obama’s Justice Department, under his two attorney generals, Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder, has issued nearly four times the amount of consent decrees as his predecessor, according to Chiaramonte.
Sen. Sessions’ has been selected by President-elect Trump to replace Lynch. He believes consent decrees are “dangerous,” so the activist approach taken by the current administration is likely to end.
“I think he will follow the law,” J. Christian Adams, election law expert and president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, told FoxNews.com. “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.”
Much of Holder’s efforts in his six years in the post were spent rebuilding the Civil Rights Division. Incoming Attorney General Jeff Sessions has long been a critic of Holder’s policies.
According to the LA Times, civil rights advocates are bracing for the division to have a more limited role in the coming years.
“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,” Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told the Times. “It is unimaginable that he could be entrusted to serve as the chief law enforcement officer for this nation’s civil rights laws.”
Yet others hope the activism will come to an end, believing Sessions will restore professionalism at the Justice Department.
“He will restore honor to a department that, under President Obama, perpetually pushed a political agenda while neglecting to enforce the law,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told the paper. “It’s time to end the politicization of the Justice Department and start defending the rule of law.”
(Photo – Jeff Sessions official portrait)