Tuesday, April 4, 2017

DOJ, civil rights, and police reform

Last Friday, Attorney General Sessions issued a memorandum enumerating a series of principles regarding law enforcement and the relation between the federal government and local law enforcement; these include local control and responsibility for local law enforcement, promotion of public respect for police work, and the idea that the "misdeeds of individual bad actors" should not impugn law enforcement as a whole. The memo than calls for review of all DOJ activities to ensure compliance with those principles.

What does this mean? Likely that we will not see new § 14141 actions or investigations being pursued against local agencies. Likely that existing cases in which a consent decree (an injunction entered with agreement of the parties and the court) has not been approved, as in Chicago and Baltimore. It will be harder to undo ongoing consent decrees; because these reflect final judgments, the court must approve any changes.

This should be a nice reminder of the relationship between governmental and private enforcement of civil rights and the special role of private enforcement--the change of administration brings changes in enforcement priorities. Private enforcement (the "private attorney general") is designed to provide a constant in picking up the slack.