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Judge blocks Trump’s police commission meetings and says law requires ‘fairly balanced membership’

Attorney General William. Barr gives an update on Operation Legend on Sept. 9, 2020, at a news conference at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
October 01, 2020

A federal judge in Washington D.C. has ordered a halt to a law-enforcement review panel created at President Donald Trump’s direction, after ruling the panel broke federal requirements that the panel meet openly and be comprised with “fairly balanced” membership.

U.S. District Judge John Bates, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, issued a decision on Thursday the 18-member panel, known as the “Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice” violated a federal rule that federal advisory committees must be “fairly balanced” in their composition and that their meetings be open to the public. Bates ruled the commission cannot continue with its work until it addresses those requirements.

Judge Bates criticized the commission for its current composition of only current and former law enforcement officers.

In his decision, Judge Bates wrote, “The Court is hard pressed to think of a starker example of non-compliance with [Federal Advisory Committee Act]’s fair balance requirement than a commission charged with examining broad issues of policing in today’s America that is composed entirely of past and present law enforcement officials.”

Judge Bates, an appointee of President George W. Bush, criticized the commission, which he noted included no civil rights groups such as the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund (LDF), which brought the lawsuit against the commission in April.

Politico reported the decision comes as the panel is set to issue a report to U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, later this month. Judge Bates’ order to restructure the panel could delay it from publishing any recommendations until after the November presidential election. Judge Bates granted a summary judgment in favor of the LDF’s complaint, and ordered “Commission proceedings be halted—and no work product released—until the requirements of FACA are satisfied.”

Judge Bates rejected arguments from the Justice Department that the commission was exempt from the transparency statute because of a 1995 exemption for committees dealing with issues of joint responsibility between the federal government and state and local governments.

While the Justice Department has also linked to 14 of the commission’s hearings, and has provided a transcript and audio for most of those meetings, Bates ruled the meetings would be considered closed if the transparency law applied and found the meetings were not announced in the Federal Register for government notices, in the 15 days ahead of the meetings, as required under the transparency law.