Over the course of the past week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has revoked a total of 25 Obama-era Department of Justice (DOJ) guidelines, reported Jurist. Among them was a 2016 guideline that advised local courts to not hand down or enforce unnecessary and excessive fines on those without the means to pay them.
In 2016, the DOJ released a report on its investigation into excessive fine enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri. The report found that:
The municipal court does not act as a neutral arbiter of the law or a check on unlawful police conduct. Instead, the court primarily uses its judicial authority as the means to compel the payment of fines and fees that advance the City's financial interests. This has led to court practices that violate the Fourteenth Amendments due process and equal protection requirements.
Since taking over the DOJ, Sessions has disapproved of using guideline protocols to drive policy. In a November memo, Sessions stated that:
the Department has in the past published guidance documents—or similar instruments of future effect by other names, such as letters to regulated entities—that effectively bind private parties without undergoing the rulemaking process. The Department will no longer engage in this practice. Effective immediately, Department components may not issue guidance documents that purport to create rights or obligations binding on persons or entities . . .
Following the release of the November memo, the DOJ has been undergoing a "review and repeal" process to rescind any guidelines that run counter to this belief.
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