Sessions Makes Big Last-Minute Move

Guidelines appear to curtail Justice Department's oversight of police departments
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 9, 2018 10:14 AM CST
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Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaking at the Department of Justice in Washington on Nov. 1, 2018.   (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

(Newser) – A memo dated Nov. 7 out of the Office of the Attorney General appears to be Jeff Sessions' last hurrah, but civil rights advocates aren't applauding. The New York Times reports that, before he left his post at President Trump's request, Sessions signed off on strict new guidelines around consent decrees, court-mandated contracts between the Department of Justice and local governments to revamp police departments hit with allegations regarding abuse and civil rights violations. Such agreements are already in place in cities such as Ferguson, Mo., as well as Chicago and Baltimore, with the latter previously drawing the ire of Sessions, who said the city was "one of the most tragic examples" of how these decrees hamstring cops, per the Baltimore Sun.

Among the new dictates surrounding the decrees: They need to get the green light from top DOJ officials (not lawyers), they generally can't be in place for more than three years, and they have to include a "sunset" provision that nixes the decree as soon as the state or local government can show they've complied with federal law. The new guidelines are in line with Sessions' strong advocacy for law enforcement, and in contrast to the efforts of the Obama administration, which entered into more than a dozen of these decrees to help solidify relationships between police and their communities. "This memo will make the Justice Department much less effective in enforcing civil rights laws," a former DOJ civil rights attorney tells the Times. (Sessions' potential new job? Maybe his old one.)

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