Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday rescinded a Trump-era near-ban on the Justice Department’s use of consent decrees to force the restructuring of local law enforcement agencies, signaling a push from the Biden administration to resume use of the tactic amid a continued outcry from liberal groups about abusive policing.
In a four-page memo to staff, Garland said he would rescind the 2018 order from former attorney general Jeff Sessions that imposed strict new measures aimed at drastically limiting the use of the settlement agreements with local police.
Under Garland’s memo, Justice Department lawyers who are leading the litigation, including the assistant attorneys general or U.S. attorneys, will be authorized to approve the consent decrees.
“It is done so because they are the Department officials most familiar with and best able to assess each particular case,” Garland wrote.
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The move comes amid the high-profile trial of Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer who has is facing several murder charges in the May 2020 death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while being arrested. Chauvin put his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while pinning him to the ground.
That case sparked mass protests in several American cities last summer led by Black Lives Matter, which has pushed to “defund the police.” Garland and several of his potential deputies, who are awaiting Senate approval over their nominations, have promised to bring renewed focus to curbing abusive policing, though they have stopped short of supporting defunding police departments.
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The Justice Department entered into consent decrees 15 times with local police agencies during the Obama administration, including Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, Cleveland and New Orleans.
Sessions had sought to severely restrict their use, saying they harm morale in police departments. He issued his order in one of his final acts in office before being fired by President Donald Trump.
“It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies,” Sessions wrote.
Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.