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

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

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.