Sessions limits use of consent decrees to reform police in one of his last acts as AG

Attorney General

Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions/Gage Skidmore.

Before his ouster on Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions approved guidelines that limit the Department of Justice’s use of consent decrees to overhaul police departments and other state and local government entities.

Consent decrees “should be employed carefully and only after review and approval of senior leadership of the department,” Sessions said in a memo to U.S. attorneys and civil litigators in the DOJ. Consent decrees generally can’t impose obligations for more than three years, and they should have a “sunset” provision ending the decree after compliance. Sessions said.

In addition, Sessions’ memo said, the DOJ generally should enforce compliance with settlement terms rather than delegating the responsibility to a monitor. “If a settlement agreement or consent decree is so complicated or long term that department officials cannot effectively monitor compliance, that may be an indication” that the deal “is not appropriately cabined” or not respectful of local control and accountability, Sessions said in a footnote.

The New York Times, the Baltimore Sun and the Chicago Sun-Times have coverage; a press release is here.

After Sessions became attorney general, the DOJ dropped investigations into police in Chicago and Louisiana. When the Chicago Police Department reached a consent agreement with the Illionis attorney general, Sessions opposed the deal.

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, criticized Sessions’ directive in a statement. “Jeff Sessions’ parting act was another attack on the core mission of the Department of Justice,” she said. “The memo is designed to restrict consent decrees and creates a series of increasingly higher roadblocks to render them rare and ineffective.”

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Gupta formerly led the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.

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