WASHINGTON – Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday overturned a Trump-era memo restricting the use of consent regulations that federal prosecutors have used in extensive investigations against law enforcement agencies.
Garland issued a new memorandum to all US attorneys and other Justice Department leaders setting out the new guidelines for civil agreements and consent regulations with state and local governments.
The memo comes as the Justice Department shifts its priorities to focus more on civil rights issues, criminal justice overhauls, and police policy following nationwide protests by law enforcement against the deaths of black Americans.
By easing restrictions on the use of consent regulations, the Department of Justice is making it easier for prosecutors to use the tool to enforce changes in law enforcement agencies and other government agencies with widespread abuse and misconduct.
In particular, the memo overrides an earlier memo by then Attorney General Jeff Sessions shortly before his resignation in November 2018.
Democrats have long argued that the Justice Department’s civil rights division’s ability to conduct extensive investigations into police departments was restricted under President Donald Trump. The so-called sample or practice examinations examine whether system deficiencies contribute to the misconduct or enable it to continue.
“This memorandum makes it clear that the division will employ all appropriate legal authorities to protect civil rights and the environment. This is consistent with the division’s longstanding practice and is informed by the expertise of the division’s career staff,” said Garland.
The Justice Department has not completely banned sample or practice investigations under Trump, but former Attorney General William Barr suggested that they may have been overused beforehand.
As Attorney General in the Obama administration, Eric Holder frequently criticized violent police confrontations and launched a series of civil rights inquiries into local law enforcement practices. The civil rights inquiries often ended with court approval orders mandating reforms.
Consent orders included those with police in Ferguson, Missouri, after the murder of Michael Brown and in Baltimore after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody.