Trump could re­shape Jus­tice Dept’s fo­cus on civil rights

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A Don­ald Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion could rad­i­cally re­shape the Jus­tice De­part­ment, par­tic­u­larly civil rights ef­forts that be­came one of its most press­ing and high-pro­file pri­or­i­ties over the past eight years. The de­part­ment, un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and the coun­try’s first two black at­tor­neys gen­eral, has in­ves­ti­gated about two dozen po­lice agen­cies for civil rights vi­o­la­tions and reached courten­force­able con­sent de­crees with many of them. It re­fused to de­fend a fed­eral law that banned the recog­ni­tion of gay mar­riage. It sued North Carolina over a bath­room bill that it said dis­crim­i­nated against trans­gen­der peo­ple. And it im­ple­mented new pro­fil­ing lim­its on fed­eral law-en­force­ment agen­cies.

But Trump’s elec­tion has stirred con­cern from civil rights ad­vo­cates that some of that work could be un­done, set aside or at least min­i­mized un­der a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. “The Civil Rights Di­vi­sion was just build­ing a head of steam over the last two, three years, and it raises re­ally se­ri­ous con­cerns about whether we now lose trac­tion on these is­sues,” An­thony Romero, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, said of a sec­tion that for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder called the “crown jewel” of the de­part­ment.

One overt change could come in the de­part­ment’s ap­proach to­ward polic­ing and re­la­tion­ships be­tween law en­force­ment and the com­mu­ni­ties they serve, an is­sue that’s moved to the pub­lic fore­front in the last two years. Trump’s talk of a “law and or­der” ap­proach to crime fight­ing and his praise for stop-and-frisk po­lice tac­tics are out of step with a Jus­tice De­part­ment that has ad­vo­cated com­mu­nity polic­ing and de­cried strate­gies it con­sid­ers un­con­sti­tu­tional or dis­crim­i­na­tory.

“He talked about things like the war on po­lice, that we need more stop and frisk, that the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment has placed po­lice of­fi­cers at risk, in ways that are re­ally con­cern­ing,” said Jonathan Smith, a for­mer Jus­tice De­part­ment civil rights of­fi­cial who over­saw the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tices by the Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri, po­lice force. The rhetoric re­sem­bles that of Rudy Gi­u­liani, the for­mer New York mayor who’s ex­pected to be con­sid­ered for the po­si­tion of at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Jus­tice De­part­ment has opened wide-rang­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions of 23 po­lice de­part­ments, in­clud­ing those in Bal­ti­more, Chicago and Fer­gu­son. It’s en­forc­ing 19 agree­ments, in­clud­ing 14 court-en­force­able con­sent de­crees. While those agree­ments are un­likely to be re­versed, new at­tor­neys could be lax in en­forc­ing them or in re­quir­ing mean­ing­ful change when ad­di­tional po­lice de­part­ments come un­der scru­tiny.

And dif­fer­ent lead­er­ship may see less value in some of the com­mu­nity meet­ings and round-ta­ble dis­cus­sions pro­moted by Jus­tice De­part­ment of­fi­cials as a way to seek rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween po­lice and mi­nori­ties. Also sub­ject to change is the de­part­ment’s over­all ap­proach to the thou­sands of drug pros­e­cu­tions it brings each year, em­bod­ied in a 2013 pol­icy ini­tia­tive that dis­cour­aged pros­e­cu­tors from seek­ing harsh prison sen­tences for non­vi­o­lent of­fend­ers. A new ad­min­is­tra­tion might also seek changes on the national se­cu­rity front, in­clud­ing how ter­ror­ism cases are pros­e­cuted and broader sur­veil­lance pow­ers - par­tic­u­larly of Mus­lims.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Loretta Lynch ac­knowl­edged the prospect for change Thurs­day, say­ing in a speech that “some poli­cies and pri­or­i­ties may shift over the span of time or the turn of the elec­toral wheel.” But she also said all Jus­tice De­part­ment em­ploy­ees “are united by a love of coun­try and a commitment to ser­vice re­gard­less.” — AP

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