Merrick Garland repeals Trump-era directive limiting ‘consent decrees’ in federal police oversight

Justice Department will "return to the traditional process."

Updated: April 17, 2021 - 11:55am

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Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday rolled back a Trump-era directive that significantly limited the use of "consent decrees" between local governments and federal authorities looking to regulate local police forces.

A "consent decree" is a type of agreement between two parties, usually overseen by a court, that spells out procedures and processes in order to resolve disputes without assigning criminal liability to either party. 

The Obama administration had been known to use consent decrees with local governments to target police forces allegedly guilty of civil rights violations. A 2018 memo by Jeff Sessions sharply limited the situations in which the federal government could enter into those decrees, with Sessions noting that the arrangements can "deprive the elected representatives of the people … of control of their government."

On Friday, Garland rolled back that memo, issuing his own directive to rescind Sessions's order and stating that the Justice Department "will return to the traditional process that allows the heads of litigating components to approve most settlement agreements, consent decrees, and the use of monitors in cases involving state and local governmental entities."

"Together, we will continue the Department's legacy of promoting the rule of law, protecting the public, and working collaboratively with state and local governmental entities to meet those ends," Garland claimed in the memo.