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Sessions' Last Act: New Justice Guidelines for Civil Consent Decrees

By William Vogeler, Esq. on November 12, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The day before resigning, Attorney General Jeff Sessions laid down some tighter guidelines for the Justice Department on civil settlements.

Consent decrees "should be employed carefully and only after review and approval of senior leadership," he said. It was one of his last acts in his abbreviated term as head of the department.

It was not as dramatic as his exit, which he tendered at a time when the Mueller investigation appears to be at a turning point. As he said in a Saturday Night Live parody, "You can't arrest me, I quit."

Dramatic Exit

Despite the drama during his tenure, Sessions soldiered through difficult directives from President Trump. He pushed immigration policy on the travel ban, sanctuary cities, and other controversial issues.

His midnight memo, which he directed to the DOJ's civil litigators, said they should enforce consent decree terms and not delegate to monitors.

He said if a settlement agreement or consent decree is so complicated or long term that officials cannot monitor compliance, then maybe the deal "is not appropriately cabined."

Sessions signaled changes in settlements soon after he became attorney general. He recently weighed in on a controversial consent decree to reform the Chicago Police Department.

Last Act

Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, criticized Sessions' last act.

"Jeff Sessions' parting act was another attack on the core mission of the Department of Justice," she said. "The memo is designed to restrict consent decrees and creates a series of increasingly higher roadblocks to render them rare and ineffective."

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