Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Sessions DOJ and § 14141

This article discusses a press conference with new Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Midway through, he talks about "pull[ing] back" on the use of § 14141 actions and consent decrees against local police departments, suggesting that such actions and judgments undermine respect for police and make it more difficult for them to do their jobs. This includes having to decide whether to move forward with a consent decree against Chicago, following an extensive investigation (by the prior department) identifying systemic misconduct and abuse within the police department.

More than anything symbolic on the White House web site, this is the first concrete change in civil-rights enforcement priorities. Note two things, however. First, such ebb-and-flow is a normal aspect of changes in administration--the Obama DOJ used § 14141 much more aggressively than did the Bush DOJ and it is not surprising that the Trump DOJ's priorities would look more like the latter's than the former's (§ 14141 was enacted in 1996, so Clinton did not have an opportunity to do much with it). Second, events on the ground often can overwhelm policy preferences. If there are enough incidents of police-involved violence, especially if captured on widely disseminated video, it may produce public pressure on the department.