It was one of the many racist policies quietly promulgated by Trumpism. Pernicious former attorney general Jeff Sessions issued a memo limiting the use of consent decrees, which were making it more difficult to control America’s racist police departments and industries committing environmental abuses. This bad guy measure was recently rescinded by good guy Merrick Garland, Joe Biden’s new attorney general.
A consent decree is a no-fault agreement or settlement that resolves a dispute between two parties. It’s practical application is to supervise and implement positive changes in various contexts. For example, if a police department is known for racist incidents such as police brutality against people of color, a consent decree can ensure that the members of that department receive training and implement hiring practices with the goal of eliminating such practices.
Another example is if a company is found to be violating good environmental practices, a consent decree could ensure that the company adheres to those practices. It’s a useful measure and there is no sane reason to oppose it — unless you’re an anti-environment racist.
On Friday the attorney general issued a memo to all U.S. attorneys and Justice Department leaders saying that the agency will “return to the traditional process that allows the heads of litigating components to approve most settlement agreements, consent decrees, and the use of monitors in cases involving state and local governmental entities. This memorandum makes clear that the Department will use all appropriate legal authorities to safeguard civil rights and protect the environment, consistent with longstanding Departmental practice and informed by the expertise of the Department’s career workforce.”
This is a useful example of how governments can quietly make changes for good. These changes are often unspectacular yet powerful. They do not grab headlines. They are not about scandals or violence. They cannot be easily summarised in a slogan or a clickbait headline, let alone in 280 characters. They cannot be communicated by repeatedly employing such tired and overworked imbecilities as representing the “GOP” as the “GQP.” Yet the invocations of these seemingly minor changes are what make real differences to real people across America.
It should be remembered that Joe Biden’s government is making these kinds of changes every day by quietly rolling back egregious and demagogic Trump-era policies and replacing them with sane and progressive changes and policies of their own. It must be understood that not all change is obvious, and the impatient frustration of many progressives sometimes don’t allow for nuanced change. But subtle change is how the real work of government gets done. It’s how real change is made, one increment at a time.
President Biden’s nominee to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division, Kristen Clarke, has been nominated to help revive the department’s justice reform efforts, including the use of consent decrees to ensure oversight of police departments accused of systemic misconduct. Her ability to do her job has been significantly enhanced by the AG’s rollback of the Sessions memo. It is little wonder, therefore, that Republicans are opposed to her appointment. They dislike her not only for their usual reasons — that she is a highly intelligent woman of color — but because she can be a force for real positive change.
With Attorney General Garland’s help, Ms. Clarke can make America great in ways that it has never been great before, and Republicans see that as a threat to their white hegemony. But as has so often been aptly pointed out, freedom is not pie. You don’t lose freedom for yourself by giving out slices of it to others. It is a kind of synergy, where the more freedom others have, the more freedom everyone has. That is a subtlety lost on the superstitious, the ignorant and the unruly Republican mob. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.