Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked 25 Justice Department guidance documents on a range of federal laws, including one from President Barack Obama’s DOJ that called on courts to stop trapping poor people in cycles of fines, debt and jail, The New York Times reported.
“Any guidance that is outdated, used to circumvent the regulatory process or that improperly goes beyond what is provided for in statutes or regulation should not be given effect,” Sessions stated as his reason for the move.
Municipalities came under scrutiny during the Obama administration for conspiring to target Black drivers who are too poor to pay their traffic fines and court fees. When they can’t pay, the courts add more fines on top of the original. That debt allows cities to confiscate wages or property. The American Civil Liberties Union and civil rights groups have been fighting against the modern-day debtors’ prison system, which some cities use as a source of revenue. The Obama-era guidance letter was sent in March 2016 to chief judges and court administrators.
Vanita Gupta, who issued the letter as head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, disputed Sessions’ claim that it created a new legal principle. The Obama administration wrote the document because states and cities asked for guidance after a DOJ investigation uncovered the practice of police, courts and city officials exploiting poor Blacks in Ferguson, Missouri in a revenue-making scheme. The guidance letter was based on a 1983 Supreme Court ruling that banned imprisoning people who cannot afford to pay their fines. This is the latest move by President Donald Trump ’s administration to reverse progress in the criminal justice system. The full range of documents that Sessions rescinded date back to 1975.
SOURCE: New York Times