Civil Liberties

Jeff Sessions Deals One More Blow to Criminal Justice Reform on His Way Out the Door

The former Attorney General has made it much for difficult for the DOJ to crack down on police departments accused of civil rights violations.


As his last move before resigning as U.S. attorney general in October, former Sen. Jeff Sessions signed a memo making it much more difficult for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to enter into binding court agreements with police departments accused of civil rights violations.

It was a parting shot at Sessions' longtime ideological enemies, groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and his department's own Civil Rights Division.

The DOJ first began creating so-called "consent decrees" to rein in rogue police departments in the 1990s, following the Rodney King trial. But they were used sparingly until the Obama era, during which time the DOJ launched a record 25 civil rights investigations into state and local law enforcement agencies. Probes in Baltimore; Chicago; Ferguson, Missouri; and elsewhere revealed excessive force, unconstitutional searches, racial discrimination, and cover-up cultures that protect bad cops.

Sessions loathed the Obama administration's use of consent decrees. He said they impugned the integrity of police, and he blamed the decrees for the dramatic spikes in violent crime seen in many large U.S. cities over the past two years. One of his first acts after taking office was ordering a review of the 14 ongoing consent decrees with various cities.

"There's a clear lesson here: If you want more shootings and more death, then listen to the ACLU, Black Lives Matter, or antifa," Sessions said in a September speech in Alabama.

There are legitimate concerns when the federal government uses the courts to strong-arm local governments, but it has become glaringly obvious in the years since Ferguson that many police departments simply cannot be trusted to police themselves. In a report released in November, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights urged the Trump administration "to return to vigorous enforcement of constitutional policing." In seven of the 10 cities with the largest reductions in police shootings since 2014, the report found, "one thing they had in common was federal intervention—either through collaborative reform agreements or consent decrees."

A future attorney general in a different administration could overturn the October memo with the same ease with which Sessions enacted it, but by then the momentum behind policing reform will be considerably slowed.

Take, for example, the town of Elkhart, Indiana. When dogged reporting by ProPublica and The South Bend Tribune recently revealed deep-rooted problems in Elkhart's police department, the town's mayor asked the Indiana State Police to investigate. The state police shrugged and said it was the Justice Department's job. And now, thanks to Sessions' parting shot, that means it's no one's job.

NEXT: Brickbat: Resistance Is Futile

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I essentially started three weeks past and that i makes $385 benefit $135 to $a hundred and fifty consistently simply by working at the internet from domestic. I made ina long term! “a great deal obliged to you for giving American explicit this remarkable opportunity to earn more money from domestic. This in addition coins has adjusted my lifestyles in such quite a few manners by which, supply you!”. go to this website online domestic media tech tab for extra element thank you .

  2. He said, she said, bull shit.

    Going around in circles, denying history, lying. It is human weakness.

    But we have developed the technology to eliminate this corruption and what have we done with it? Spy, Twitter, pornography and whining on social media about it.

    Shit or get off the pot.

    Demand the human right to voluntarily use personal micro digital recording devices everywhere we go.

    All corruption will immediately have nowhere to hide.

  3. I essentially started three weeks past and that i makes $385 benefit $135 to $a hundred and fifty consistently simply by working at the internet from domestic. I made ina long term! “a great deal obliged to you for giving American explicit this remarkable opportunity to earn more money from domestic. This in addition coins has adjusted my lifestyles in such quite a few manners by which, supply you!”. go to this website online domestic media tech tab for extra element thank you……

  4. I feel like initiating coercion against the people sending out bot spam.

    1. That’s not spam. It’s Instapoetry. “$a hundred and fifty” is especially brilliant prose.

  5. Consent decrees are an end run around legislatures and the courts, they are a way to conspire against the public. I truly dislike Sessions, but this is about the least objectionable thing he has done.

  6. Sessions was Old Pen and a phone.

    NEW pen and a phone.

  7. Trump got an old RINO politician and drug warrior out of politics forever. But he’s done his damage.

    Wikipedia- Jeff Sessions

    Assistant US Attorney:
    Alabama AG: In 1985, Sessions prosecuted three African American community organizers in the Black Belt of Alabama, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s former aide Albert Turner, for voter fraud, alleging tampering with 14 absentee ballots.
    US Senate
    US AG: Trump plucked him from Alabama US Senate to US Attorney General.

    1. Poor troll LC1789 tries to polish Trump’s turd.

    2. Poor trolls hate that Trump is awesome!

      1. Poor trolls BELIEVE that Trump is awesome!

      2. Poolock is one of our non-lawyer trolls from volokh.

  8. Cop consent decrees, sue and settle; all part of the same problem. If you use the public courts, you should have to go to the full trial completion with an actual verdict from the judge. And the results should be open public record, not sealed or subject to non-disclosure ‘agreements’.

  9. Man, that freak Jeff Sessions likes to Blow Criminal Justice.

  10. All symptoms of band-aid after band-aid. The problem is unaccountable government employees. The solution is accountability: stop hiding behind qualified (and absolute) immunity. When a cop or prosecutor fucks up, hold them accountable. Stop hiding their fuckups behind personnel record privacy laws, so defense attorneys can show how unreliable their testimony is, so they will no longer be employable as cops. When they perform illegal searches, charge them with trespassing. When they arrest for no reason, charge them with kidnapping. When they lie, charge them with perjury.

    All this federal oversight comes about only because the market of cop trustworthiness has been so distorted by qualified immunity and police unions. In typical government fashion, that was invented because statists want to control the process instead of letting the people use free markets to solve problems.

  11. So J. Beauregard Crow turned out not to be a Civil Rights activist? Who’d a thunk it!

  12. From a libertarian perspective it’s actually a good thing. Because police depts should be accountable to their local communities, not the federal government. We think the feds are always good and all powerful. And usually they are, but it’s a mistake to put all your trust in them. Better for locals to hold their police accountable. #libertarianism101

    1. Iffy.

      Often libertarians argue against local rule (blue laws and election laws come readily to mind) and justify federal meddling in local matters in the name of protecting rights as a just function of government.

      So which is it this time?

      While local accountability is preferred, oftentimes corruption is so endemic that appeals to Bill of Rights violations is the window to invite federal action (and where much of these agreements take place) and also federal overreach.

      Nothing in libertarianism addresses this that hasn’t already been shot to hell by Peter Kropotkin. Where the rubber meets the road, how does the best wishes of libertarianism address corruption without the use of force?

      1. There’s a difference between federal review to strike down unconstitutional laws, and local control of spending, say.

        Now it might be fun to have local review of federal spending, or even federal laws. But there is nothing wrong with feds striking down unconstitutional local laws.

        1. Yeah, you’re for one and against the other as convenient. Imagine my surprise.

          The argument isn’t the feds lack the jurisdiction or authority (even on libertarian grounds), but simply the agreements are poor or they are cases of overreach.

          If there was only some mechanism for these beleaguered police departments were aware of where they could argue their case…

  13. Uhhhhh, what?

    Basically every example you used for why this needs to exist was a made up, bullshit story, that was manufactured into outrage by identity politics peddling SJWs…

    There are of course REAL civil rights violations, but I don’t recall ever hearing of any of these DOJ powers being used to deal with them. They basically get called in because a bunch of black people scream “Racism!” when half the time it’s mostly black cops having to lay the smack down on black gang members in dicey ass cities… Which is kinda what ya gotta do to deal with rabble.

    Sooo no tears shed on my part for this one. Sessions was weak sauce on a lot of stuff, but he did do a couple decent things. On the whole this may well be one of them, since in practice it was just a tool used by SJWs to prevent cops from doing their jobs.

    THAT SAID, police need to be held accountable when they do something wrong. But the way to do that is at the local level, because it is a local problem, and most of the real abuses are one offs here and there distributed across the whole country, not one city randomly abusing every single citizen they come across.

    1. Libertarians are a bit of a mystery to me, hence my signing up to ask questions of folks commenting at Reason, hoping some here hold principles of actual Libertarians.

      From your post, I think you would agree with me, it’s safe to say you are in that group of trump supporters that don’t have any problem with cowardly or bigoted racist cops giving out death sentences if those unarmed folks getting gunned down happen to be black.
      Your post helps confirm my suspicions.
      From the last two years my Research indicates that this simple Axiom holds true.

      The Axiom is, not all Trump supporters are bigoted rascists. :)))

      But all bigoted racist are Trump supporters.

      1. Well, there are different flavors of libertarians, and then there are those that hold some libertarian principles, but completely disavow them in some situations when the practical downsides seem to be too great.

        There are left and right libertarians. Usually defined by what issues tend to be of the most importance to them, or what their personal views are on issues where the government shouldn’t be involved anyway. Left libs tend to be most interested in stuff like legal weed, gay marriage, feminist stuff, etc. Right libertarians tend to care more about low taxes, minimal government interference in the market, etc.

        I’m a right libertarian. I ALSO think there are a few issues where pure libertarian philosophy tends to fall down in real world application, such as with open borders.

        As for the whole racism thing… To some nutballs Democrat in 2019 I probably am racist, but not by any sane standards.

        The reality is blacks commit crimes at orders of magnitude higher rates than some other ethnicities… This is why they get arrested more. It’s not racism when BLACK COPS are arresting BLACK CRIMINALS in largely BLACK CITIES.

        1. There are tons of incidents of cops using force when they shouldn’t. They should get in trouble, no matter who the force is used against. Cops shoot plenty of white people too FYI.

          But I do not believe there is institutional racism specifically targeting blacks. They just commit more crimes, that’s why they have more incidents per capita. Period. Data backs this up.

          50% of murders are by blacks, who are 12% of the population. You can believe blacks are getting busted disproportionally for weed all day long, and that may be possible… But that the cops are just randomly charging blacks in murder cases for shits and giggles, don’t think so. They’re just actually killing that many more people than whites, Asians, etc. Their communist is dysfunctional as shit, always has been. Until they stop committing more crimes, they will always get arrested in greater numbers. As they deserve.

          Also, FYI, I’m part Mexican and Native American. Hispanics ALSO have a massive crime problem. I just call it like I see it.

  14. While I think that Sessions was a dangerous idiot, I don’t necessarily see this as a bad outcome. Consent decrees are one of the worst ways to police local law enforcement. They are generally ineffective and often actively harmful to the very people they are supposed to protect.

    What the DoJ ought to be doing is prosecuting the bad cops and the bad administrators writing unconstitutional rules. Start putting some people in jail and you won’t need all these unenforceable “consent” decrees.

    1. +1000

    2. +1001

  15. +10

  16. Yes, there certainly are legitimate concerns when the federal government uses the courts to strong-arm local governments. Standard Obama protocol against local governments that didn’t play his games

    1. They didn’t play his games, cuz they wanted to continue covering for the misdeeds of the racist , dirty cops witbhin their ranks?

      Just to clarify.

      1. All those black cops out there being racist against black people right? Because in a number of the high profile cases, that’s exactly what it was. As if that makes ANY FUCKING SENSE to a rational person.

        Have you ever even GONE to a truly bad ethnic neighborhood? I have. It is some dicey ass shit dude. Oakland, Richmond, etc when I was growing up as a kid. NOT nice places. The cops that work those areas are dealing with some sketchy ass people, and sometimes they have to lay the smack down. That smack down should be appropriate to the situation, but the fact is beating people down, and/or shooting people has to happen sometimes.

  17. “Jeff Sessions signed a memo making it much more difficult for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to enter into binding court agreements with police departments accused of civil rights violations.”

    Good. Deep State “binding agreements” aren’t law, they’re just more rule by apparatchiks.

    If police departments violate the law, let them be prosecuted by the courts.

    ” But they were used sparingly until the Obama era”

    Deep State metastasized under Obama. Progressivism is rule of the Deep State.

    1. Progressivism is Rule of the deep state?

      WTF does that biased derp actually mean?
      Is it something you could actually speak to and not reveal your self as willfully ignorant and intellectually dishonest?
      Yeah, you trump cult folks actually need to step up to a challenge for once online.
      Do it.

      1. Do you not know how to read polling data?

        The overwhelming majority of people who work for both the federal government, AND local/state governments identify as Democrats and/or leftists/progressives.

        This is not a matter for debate, it has been seen every single time polling on the subject has been shown. Career bureaucrats tilting things in a way that agrees with THEIR personal politics is nothing new, it has always happened. The difference is mainly in how tilted the numbers have got left vs right in government jobs, as it didn’t used to be such a big difference, and also in how blatant and in the open many have been willing to be lately. They used to at least try to hide their defiance of the elected government, now they just say shit out loud, and pretend it’s a good thing they’re intentionally ignored the laws passed by elected officials.

        If you’re a new retard shit-lib, you might as well just pack up and leave now. You will find some moron bleeding heart libertarians here that agree on a lot of social issues… Hell I’m in favor of gay marriage and legal weed! But you will be destroyed on most things, as progressives have no logical argument on most issues.

    2. For a “deep state” environment to become entrenched it must work with either cable bundle of elected government.

      The system is one of “divide and conquer”, and you are playing right into their hands. People can be so stupid.

      No governance option available to you has your best interest in mind.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.