Since at least the heyday of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ‘60s, civil rights and democracy advocates have relied on the federal courts to protect the rights of racial, ethnic and religious minorities and disabled Americans.
But the non-profit news organization Pro Publica reports this morning that the Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions is gradually eliminating one of the judiciary’s most important tools for civil rights enforcement: “consent decrees” that give judges long-term oversight over individuals, groups and government agencies that have engaged in discrimination.
“At best, this administration believes that civil rights enforcement is superfluous and can be easily cut. At worst, it really is part of a systematic agenda to roll back civil rights,” Vanita Gupta, the former acting head of the DOJ’s civil rights division under President Barack Obama, told Pro Publica.
The news site says senior Justice Department lawyers are instructing subordinates who handle discrimination cases to focus on settlements that resolve immediate problems but to avoid consent decrees that give judges authority to impose and enforce rules that would prevent a revival of discrimination.
Consent decrees often require state and local governments to take expensive steps to guard against future discrimination, forcing legislators to shuffle budgets and/or consider tax increases. William Yeomans, who spent 26 years at the Justice Department, mostly in the civil rights division, told Pro Publica that without consent decrees, many localities or government departments would simply never make needed changes.
“They are key to civil rights enforcement,” he said. “That’s why Sessions and his ilk don’t like them.”
Office: Common Cause National