March 25, 2023

Attorney General Jeff Sessions just launched a last-minute racist attack on civil rights

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Fired Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III just left a disgusting parting gift to America’s worst police departments.

Sessions issued a binding memo making it harder for the Department of Justice to police the police departments and Sherrif’s Offices by imposing court monitors to regulate those agencies under a special kind of judgment called a consent decree.

Consent decrees are reserved for those who are repeat violators of our Constitutional civil rights like the right to live without the fear of being murdered by members of a police department using excessive force. Historically, minorities and especially African-Americans have borne the brunt of police brutality.

Under President Obama and former AG Eric Holder, the DOJ negotiated a series of consent decrees with some of the worst offending police departments across the country, like Baltimore, Miami, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Ferguson, and Albuquerque.

When a police department is sued by the Department of Justice, they used to have a big incentive to settle and enter into a consent decree instead of enduring years of costly litigation at local taxpayer expense while residents suffer at the hands of police behaving illegally.

The reason that consent decrees are the most effective tool to rein in awful police departments is their generally open-ended nature and the threat of contempt of court for non-compliance with the agreement. That can land cops in jail, even the top brass of a police force, which is something no law enforcement officer wants to suffer.

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But Jeff Sessions just struck a hammer blow in favor of murderous cops by adding new restrictions that will make it far more difficult for the DOJ’s career officials to enforce the law against cops and reduce the effectiveness of the fewer consent decrees they do obtain.

His new rules limit the DOJ’s ability to request a length of greater than 24 months for all consent decrees.

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A fairly typical example of a consent decree is the City of Miami Police Department’s 2016 agreement which resulted from officers killing seven unarmed black men in a single summer during 2011, leading to litigation from the DOJ in 2013 and a consent decree in 2016 that lasts for four years.

Shortening the period for police departments to cure their worst excesses will be a powerful disincentive for career lawyers at the DOJ to spend years preparing cases and pursuing bad guys with badges.

However, that’s not even the worst barrier Session erected to protect dirty cops; his new rules will require the department’s lawyers seeking new consent decrees to obtain what is quintessentially a political decision on a law enforcement matter by requiring the sign-off of a senior Justice Department official like the number two official, the Deputy Attorney General or Associate Attorney General who’s number three in the chain of command.

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The departed Attorney General’s new rule also limits when a consent decree can be deployed to when there is a demonstrated pattern and practice of abuses which can be more difficult to prove.

Lastly, Sessions limited the way that court monitors are paid to a fixed price model instead of the traditionally open-ended nature of monitoring fees, a move aimed at having less monitoring even after the highest standards to implement a consent decree are met.

Jeff Sessions must’ve known that these rules would embolden America’s worst police officers once he imposed them on the Department of Justice, which is why he waited until he was on his way out the door to pull the trigger.

Christmas just came early for police unions, incompetent police brass and racist cops.

Original reporting by Katie Benner @ New York Times

Grant Stern

Editor at Large

is the Executive Editor of Occupy Democrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also a mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, an unpaid senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition, and a Director of Sunshine Agenda Inc. a government transparency nonprofit organization.

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