Federal Court Says Trump's Law Enforcement Commission Violates Federal Law

from the ignorance-of-the-law-still-working-out-great-for-law-enforcement dept

The "rule of law" Administration is at it again. Ignoring the rule of law by ignoring applicable laws, the Administration decided to cozy up with law enforcement agencies while pretending to be serving the public. (h/t ProPublica)

Formed by executive order, the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice was formed by the DOJ. The Commission promised to tackle several important issues, including the handling of mental illnesses, substance abuse, and homelessness. It would supposedly seek input from education, employment, and mental health services to tackle these problems.

More problematically, the Commission thought it needed to address this perceived "problem:"

What is the cause of diminished respect for law enforcement and the laws they enforce, and how does it affect both police and public safety?

The answer would have been immediately apparent if the Commission had asked anyone else but law enforcement agencies to participate. But it didn't. And now a federal court has found that the Administration violated federal law by forming a one-sided commission unlikely to fairly address any of the issues in front of it. Here's how the court describes the President's new Commission en route to finding it broke the law. From the opinion [PDF]:

The Attorney General stressed the need to hear from “[a] diversity of backgrounds and perspectives” such as “community organizations, civic leadership, civil rights and victim’s rights organizations, criminal defense attorneys, academia, social service organizations, and other entities that regularly interact with American law enforcement.” Despite these stated goals, however, the Commission’s membership consists entirely of current and former law enforcement officials. No Commissioner has a criminal defense, civil rights, or community organization background. And Commission proceedings have been far from transparent. Especially in 2020, when racial justice and civil rights issues involving law enforcement have erupted across the nation, one may legitimately question whether it is sound policy to have a group with little diversity of experience examine, behind closed doors, the sensitive issues facing law enforcement and the criminal justice system in America today.

This one-sided panel does not comply with federal law. Nor does its closed-door meetings, which ignore transparency mandates. Here are the requirements of the law that governs the Administration's law enforcement commission:

Passed in 1972, FACA [Federal Advisory Committee Act] requires, among other things, that covered federal advisory committees be “fairly balanced” in the viewpoints represented, that meetings be open and publicly noticed, that a charter be prepared and filed, and that a designated federal officer be appointed to ensure compliance with FACA.

But that's not what happened. After saying some nice things about "diverse viewpoints," Attorney General Bill Barr stocked the commission with 18 former or current law enforcement officials. Barr then unilaterally decided this commission didn't need to comply with federal law.

Further, the memorandum noted, “[t]he Commission serves exclusively to advise the Attorney General and the President” and “is not intended to be subject to either the Federal Advisory Committee Act or Administrative Procedure Act.”

Another brief nod towards transparency was made by the Commission -- a nod that was made even briefer by the Commission shortly after it pretended to care about the public's opinion.

In February 2020, the Commission posted a notice on its website offering interested members of the public the opportunity to submit comments through May 31, 2020 regarding any aspect of the Commission’s work. But at some point between March 13 and March 28, the Commission shortened the comment window by two months, requiring all submissions by March 31, 2020, without posting notice in the Federal Register.

After a lengthy discussion of the government's arguments about whether or not this lawsuit can even be entertained by the court, much less FACA's applicability to its law enforcement commission, the court arrives at this conclusion:

There is no genuine dispute that the government has violated FACA’s transparency and public access requirements by holding closed hearings without timely notice in the Federal Register. And there is likewise no genuine dispute that the Commission has violated FACA’s oversight provisions by failing to file a charter for the Commission, 5 U.S.C. app. 2 § 9(c), and that Attorney General Barr has violated FACA by failing to assign a designated federal officer to the Commission to ensure compliance with FACA…

And the court says there's no dispute the composition of the Commission isn't "fairly balanced." This leads to the court's most damning assessment of the President's law enforcement committee.

The Commission’s function is to improve policing, including relations between law enforcement and the communities they protect. Yet the Commission does not include a single member who represents elements of those communities, rather than law enforcement. Thus, even employing a deferential review, the Court concludes that the Commission’s membership is not “fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented and the functions to be performed by the advisory committee.” 5 U.S.C. app. 2 § 5(b)(2). Indeed, the Court is hard pressed to think of a starker example of non-compliance with FACA’s fair balance requirement than a commission charged with examining broad issues of policing in today’s America that is composed entirely of past and present law enforcement officials.

The court says nearly everything about the Commission must change. It must change its composition, supply sufficient advance notice for public comment, and otherwise comply with FACA. Until it can comply, it can't hold any more meetings. We'll see how serious the Administration is about improving the relationship between cops and communities. If the Commission decides to abide by the law and continue its work, maybe the Administration still cares about these issues. If it decides it would rather dump the Commission than comply with the law, we'll see how hollow its "rule of law" statements really are.

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Filed Under: balance, commission on law enforcement, doj, executive order, faca, law and order, law enforcement, legal issues, rule of law, william barr

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Oct 2020 @ 11:08am


    I prefer Trumplandia

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