Judge rules federal law enforcement commission violates law, orders work stopped as attorney general prepares to issue report
Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement is not diverse, doesn’t hold public meetings as law requires
A national commission on policing launched earlier this year by President Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr has violated federal law by seating only people in law enforcement and failing to include members with different perspectives such as civil rights activists, defense attorneys or mental health professionals,a federal judge ruled Thursday as he halted the group’s work. The commission also did not file a charter, post public notice of its meetings or open them to the public, so even though it has already sent its draft report and recommendations to Barr for release later this month, the judge prohibited Barr from publishing a final report.
The ruling by Senior U.S. District Judge John D. Bates in Washington came in response to a lawsuit from the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, which sought an injunction against the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice for violating laws on how federal advisory committees must work.Bates did not issue an injunction yet, but asked both sides to file briefs on what should be included in an injunction, said he would order the commission to change its membership and comply with other aspects of the law, and that it could not issue a report until it had done so.
“Especially in 2020,”Bates wrote, “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”
The 18-member commission was composed entirely of local, state and federal law enforcement officials, with no one from the civil rights, criminal defense, social work, religious or academic fields. Members were sworn in on Jan. 22 and then heard months of testimony by teleconference from experts in a variety of police, prosecutorial and social fields.The commission also formed 15 working groups,with more than 100 members, to draft sections of the report focusing on topics such as “Reduction of Crime,” “Respect for Law Enforcement,” “Data and Reporting” and “Homeland Security.”
The Federal Advisory Committee Act requires that a committee’s membership be “fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented and the functions to be performed,” so that its recommendations “will not be inappropriately influenced by the appointing authority.”The working groups were also largely tied to policing, with only five of the 112 members not from law enforcement. After the suit was filed, the speakers who testified before the commission were more diverse in professional backgrounds.