Jeff Sessions Pulls the Plug on an Obama Legacy and There Are Lots of Hurt Feelings

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. pauses as he speaks to media at Trump Tower in New York, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

One of the things ballyhooed as an Obama legacy by outgoing attorney general Loretta Lynch was the widespread bullying of local police departments as a way of energizing the #BlackLivesMatter movement as a political tool.

The Department’s letter of findings documenting constitutional violations in policing practices in Ferguson, Missouri has become a national blueprint for reform that other jurisdictions can adapt to their own purposes. Since 2009, the Department’s Civil Rights Division has opened 23 “pattern or practice” investigations into police departments, in order to determine whether these police departments have any persistent patterns of misconduct that violate community members’ constitutional rights, ranging from discriminatory policing to uses of excessive force. Five of these investigations are ongoing. The Department is now enforcing 17 agreements with law enforcement agencies across the country, including 14 consent decrees. The Department must continue to investigate credible allegations of constitutional policing, and, where necessary, work with local authorities to implement meaningful changes.

Two of the main projects in this scheme were actions taken by Justice to put the police departments of Chicago and Baltimore under some sort of court ordered supervision. Now Jeff Sessions seems intent on unraveling this federal overreach.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered Justice Department officials to review reform agreements with troubled police forces nationwide, saying it was necessary to ensure that these pacts do not work against the Trump administration’s goals of promoting officer safety and morale while fighting violent crime.

In a two-page memo released Monday, Sessions said agreements reached previously between the department’s civil rights division and local police departments — a key legacy of the Obama administration — will be subject to review by his two top deputies, throwing into question whether all of the agreements will stay in place.

The memo was released not long before the department’s civil rights lawyers asked a federal judge to postpone until at least the end of June a hearing on a sweeping police reform agreement, known as a consent decree, with the Baltimore Police Department that was announced just days before President Trump took office.

“This is terrifying,” said Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, who spent five years as the department’s chief of special litigation, overseeing investigations into 23 police departments such as New Orleans, Cleveland and Ferguson, Mo. “This raises the question of whether, under the current attorney general, the Department of Justice is going to walk away from its obligation to ensure that law enforcement across the country is following the Constitution.”

There might conceivably be a place for the US Justice Department to demand that management of a police department be changed to meet its demands. I’m simply unable to think of one. The responsibility rests with municipal, county and state governments. It rests in the hands of state courts. I’ve no problem with Justice prosecuting police officers and officials who are accused of federal crimes but the Obama administration seemed intent upon potentially placing every police force in the nation under some sort of open-ended court supervision.