Federal Judge Halts Attorney General’s Commission Over Lack of Diversity

October 2, 2020 Updated: October 2, 2020

A federal judge on Oct. 1 blocked the work of a Justice Department commission aimed at addressing problems confronting law enforcement that impact their ability to police in the community, saying that the policing panel violated federal open meeting laws.

U.S. District Judge John Bates ruled Thursday that the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which makes it mandatory that government committees receive input from “fairly balanced” viewpoints.

The commission was first announced in late October last year after President Donald Trump signed an executive order designating Attorney General William Barr to form the commission to study the issues plaguing law enforcement and the administration of justice.

The commission conducts most of its study through panel presentations, field visits, hearings, and meetings. They also draw expertise from academia, officials, private citizens, community organizations, civil liberties groups, bar associations, and victims, who could provide important insights on the issues.

Its membership—made up entirely of federal, state and local law enforcement, with no civil rights advocates—and secretive proceedings led the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund (LDF) to sue to stop its work earlier this year. Barr and the Justice Department were named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Epoch Times Photo
Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP, speaks during a press conference in Washington, on March 28, 2018. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Bates ruled in the group’s favor in Washington on Thursday in a 45-page opinion, saying that none of the commission’s members have “a criminal defense, civil rights, or community organization background.”

“The commission’s membership consists entirely of current and former law enforcement officials,” he wrote.

He also criticized the Justice Department for its failure to notify the public when meetings would take place, and for holding closed-door meetings. Bates said in his opinion that the commission has so far held more than 20 meetings.

Bates raised concerns that the commission’s proceedings have been “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.

The Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice was scheduled to release its report by Oct. 28, ahead of the presidential election in November.

The Epoch Times has contacted the Justice Department and the White House for comment.

“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,” LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill said in a statement following Bates’s Thursday ruling, CBS News reported.

Janita Kan and Reuters contributed to this report.