Political News

Judge rules Barr violated law in selecting law enforcement panel members

Posted October 1, 2020 6:55 p.m. EDT

— A federal judge ruled on Thursday that Attorney General William Barr had violated the law in how he chose the members of a law enforcement group commissioned by President Donald Trump to investigate and make recommendations on the state of the criminal justice system.

US District Judge John Bates has ordered the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice to "not hold further meetings, sessions, or hearings, or conduct any official business" or "submit, accept, publish, employ, or rely upon any report or recommendations" until it has met the standards of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, according to the order.

The commission's goal is to study a broad range of issues regarding law enforcement and the criminal justice system in more than a dozen working groups that had themes including "Respect for Law Enforcement," "Victim Services" and "Juvenile Justice and Youth Crime." After studying the groups' designated issues, the commission is expected to make recommendations to Barr on actions that address crime, increase respect for the law and assist victims. Barr would then turn over the recommendations for Trump's consideration.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit in April against Barr, the Justice Department and the commission, charging that they were violating the Federal Advisory Committee Act by holding closed-door meetings and omitting people in urban communities that will be affected by their recommendations.

"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," Bates wrote.

Bates ruled on Thursday that the commission had violated the federal law by failing to file a charter and to provide timely notice of each meeting in the Federal Register, "that Attorney General William P. Barr has violated FACA by failing to select a designated federal officer for the Commission" and "by failing to ensure the Commission's membership is fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented and the functions to be performed," according to the order.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Justice declined to comment.

"The Federal Advisory Committee Act was created to ensure that federal advisory committees are held publicly accountable for their actions. The Commission's disregard of nearly all of FACA's requirements was an egregious violation of federal law, and we are pleased that the court recognized this," Natasha Merle, senior counsel at the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, wrote in a statement.

"Amid a national policing crisis, we need to focus more attention than ever on reshaping how this country approaches public safety," Merle said. "This requires meaningful engagement with the public, and with all interested stakeholders. Today's ruling ensures that the government will not be able to evade the law to pursue a skewed agenda."

Barr selected former and current members of law enforcement including US attorneys, district attorneys and police chiefs from across the country. No members of the commission have criminal defense, civil rights or community organization backgrounds, the judge wrote in agreement with the Legal Defense Fund.

"The Commission was set up in a manner that completely ignored these provisions intended to ensure that the community has access to, and a voice in, decisions that necessarily impact them," Miriam Krinsky, the founder and executive director of the advocacy group Fair and Just Prosecution, wrote in a statement to CNN. "The skewed makeup of the Commission and its working groups -- and its secretive and closed process -- underscores the bias and predetermined agenda inherent in the establishment of this group."

More than 75 current and former elected prosecutors and law enforcement leaders joined the Legal Defense Fund's lawsuit with an amicus brief, writing that this "flawed process ... is the last thing a nation in crisis needs."

District Attorney John Choi resigned from the commission last month after his concerns over a lack of transparency with the other working groups and not having members of the community involved with their study had not been addressed.

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