Jeff Sessions strikes one last blow at consent decrees before he leaves office

On his way out of the door, the exiting attorney general made a policy change that affects how law enforcement agencies can be checked when it comes to police abuse

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Shortly before he was compelled to resign as attorney general by President Trump, one of Jeff Sessions‘ final acts was to sign an order limiting the Justice Department’s ability to use consent decrees.

According to a New York Times report, the order signed by Sessions on Wednesday, would require top political appointees to sign off on the deals instead of career lawyers. This order is similar to one currently pending in Chicago, and is meant to address the behavior of local police departments accused of systemic civil rights abuses.

The Justice Department, under former President Barack Obama, aggressively pursued consent decrees, but Sessions has criticized them as a handicap on local law enforcement.

READ MORE: Black Lives Matter activist plan to protest outside of police conference over Stephon Clark murder

“The document reflected Mr. Sessions’s staunch support for law enforcement and his belief that overzealous civil rights lawyers under the Obama administration vilified the local police,” the New York Times piece read.

But a Chicago Sun Times report clarifies that, “Sessions’ order does not appear to threaten the consent decree soon expected to be finalized for the Chicago Police Department, which was negotiated by the city and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office”

Chicago’s consent decree is specifically a settlement negotiated between the city and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office. It is meant to address the pattern of civil rights abuses by the CPD after the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald by Officer Jason Van Dyke sparked a Justice Department probe.

READ MORE: Black police officers’ group backs Kaepernick, blasts mainstream cop org

These deals have always been a tool that the Justice Department has used to help change policing practices nationwide. After the killings of black men at the hands of the police set off the Black Lives Matter movement, the Obama administration entered into 14 of these agreements in an effort to improve relationships between the police and their communities.

However, Sessions’ new guidelines would place more of a burden onto state attorneys general and other local agencies attempting to make these deals.

“This memo will make the Justice Department much less effective in enforcing civil rights laws,” said Jonathan M. Smith, a former official in the department’s civil rights division and the executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

Sessions has previously stated that he believes any agreements made should ensure that the police are safe and respected and as a result has dropped several Obama-era investigations looking into police corruption in Chicago and Louisiana.

READ MORE: Family of Botham Jean files suit against ex-Dallas cop