A federal judge issued a stinging rebuke to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ attempt to undermine an Obama-era plan between the Justice Department and Baltimore to reform the city’s police department.
The DOJ had reached a so-called consent decree with Baltimore before Sessions took over. After he was sworn in, he directed the department to request a 90-day delay to review the agreement. The request was specifically timed to push back a public hearing about the decree. On Wednesday, though, Judge James K. Bredar rejected the request, writing, “the Government’s motion is untimely. To postpone the public hearing at the eleventh hour would be to unduly burden and inconvenience the Court, the other parties, and, most importantly, the public.”
As the Baltimore Sun noted, Judge Bredar’s ruling seemed primarily focused on the timing of the request, and eschewed the main thrust of the DOJ’s broader request to re-assess the decree.
“The primary purpose of this hearing is to hear from the public,” Bredar explained. “It would be especially inappropriate to grant this late request for a delay when it would be the public who were most adversely affected by a postponement.”
Still, the denial is a bump in the road for Session’s plans for a far-reaching review of a number of similar consent decrees between the DOJ and local law enforcement agencies. That review was seen as a sign that the government may be walking back plans to reform some of the most troubled police departments in the country. Sessions’ short time in the Justice Department has seen a marked effort to bolster police—one carried out, critics worry, at the expense of those being policed.
The agreement between Baltimore and the DOJ followed a lengthy investigation into the city’s police department. It found that the BPD routinely engaged in racist and discriminatory policing. The consent decree that followed ordered a series of major reforms for the department.
Earlier this year, Sessions’ DOJ stated that it was committed to allowing Baltimore’s consent decree to move forward as planned. The now-rejected last-minute request for a 90-day hold on the decree prompted many to question that commitment.
Despite Sessions’ threat, Baltimore officials were prepared to move forward with the prescribed reforms, with or without the consent decree in place.
“Those reforms are going to take place no matter what,” said Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the day before the judge’s ruling. “We have to continue to stress the necessity of constitutional policing in Baltimore.”