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Judge halts Trump and Barr law enforcement report, citing commission’s lack of diversity

A federal judge’s ruling on Thursday stopped next month’s expected release of a report from a presidential commission created to study American law enforcement. Judge John Bates ruled that the commission, comprised solely of current and former law enforcement officials, lacked the diversity necessary to address issues plaguing policing. 

None of the 18 commissioners appointed to “study a broad range of issues regarding law enforcement and the criminal justice system,” and then make recommendations to the president through the report, have any background in “criminal defense, civil rights, or community organization,” Bates noted in his decision. 

“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 court ruled in favor of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), which brought a lawsuit against both the commission and Attorney General William Barr. LDF argued that the government had violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which requires transparency and “fairly balanced” membership on advisory committees. LDF alleged that it was “denied access to representation on the Commission,” by the government, and did not have an opportunity to formally apply for Commission membership.

Bates concluded that the government did not satisfy the obligations of “forming and conducting a commission in 2020 to examine the sensitive and important issues affecting American law enforcement and the communities they serve.” The court thereby ordered that “Commission proceedings be halted — and no work product released — until the requirements of FACA are satisfied.”

“Any federal committee designed to make recommendations about law enforcement must include representation from people and communities impacted by police violence, civil rights organizations, the criminal defense bar, and other stakeholders,” Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel, said in a statement following Bates’ decision. 

Barr established the “Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice” in January, following an October executive order from President Trump. 

Months later, George Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes, sparking a mass call for reform. Over the following three months, from May 26 to August 31, police continued to kill Black men and women at disproportionate rates. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Black people make up roughly 13.4% of the U.S. population — but they accounted for about 20% of people killed by police during that time period. 

In announcing the commission in January, Barr wrote that the “most troubling” issue facing police is the “continued lack of trust and respect for law enforcement that persists in many communities.” Adding, “So while it is important that we always strive to better our police, police also deserve better from us. Nobody wins when law enforcement do not have the trust of the people they protect.”

Barr noted that

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Judge halts work of Trump police commission after NAACP complaint

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While discussing the shooting of Jacob Blake on ‘The Ingraham Angle,’ President Trump said some police officers who shoot unarmed suspects ‘choke.’

USA TODAY

A federal judge Thursday halted the work of a national law enforcement advisory commission authorized by President Donald Trump as part of a legal challenge to the group’s composition and claims that it lacked representation from police reform and civil rights groups.

The order issued by U.S. District Judge John Bates comes weeks before the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice was due to deliver to Attorney General William Barr its findings on challenges facing local police.

While the The commission was directed to produce a “fresh evaluation of the salient issues affecting American law enforcement and the communities they protect,” civil rights advocates claimed that it has served to support “unfounded yet repeated public assertions” by the president and the attorney general that there is lack of respect for police.

 “That purpose is evident in the composition of the commission, which is stacked with members that are exclusively from a law enforcement background,” the NAACP Defense & Educational Fund Inc. claimed in its initial complaint. “Not a single member of the commission is a defense attorney, criminologist or other relevant academic, public-health practitioner, mental health or addiction-recovery treatment provider, offender reentry coordinator, social worker, or formerly incarcerated individual.”

Attorney General William Barr stands by President Trump as he speaks to Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth and Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis Sept. 1, 2020 in Kenosha, Wis. (Photo: Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Bates, in a 45-page opinion, concluded that the government had not met its obligation to “ensure transparency and fairly balanced (committee) membership … during this time of great turmoil over racial injustice and allegations of police misconduct.”

“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,” Bates wrote. “Despite these stated goals, however, the commission’s membership consists entirely of current and former law enforcement officials.”

The judge also took issue with the commission’s proceedings, describing them as “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,” Bates wrote.

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