The Trump administration could radically reshape the Justice Department, particularly civil rights efforts that became one of its most pressing and high-profile priorities over the past eight years, reports the Associated Press. Under President Obama and the country’s first two black attorneys general, the department has investigated about two dozen police agencies for civil rights violations and reached court-enforceable consent decrees with many of them. It refused to defend a federal law that banned the recognition of gay marriage. It sued North Carolina over a bathroom bill that it said discriminated against transgender people. And it implemented new racial profiling limits on federal law-enforcement agencies.
But Trump’s election has stirred concern from civil rights advocates that some of that work could be undone, set aside or at least minimized under a Trump administration. “The Civil Rights Division was just building a head of steam over the last two, three years, and it raises really serious concerns about whether we now lose traction on these issues,” said Anthony Romero of the ACLU. One overt change could come in the department’s approach toward policing. Trump’s talk of a “law and order” approach to crime fighting and his praise for stop-and-frisk police tactics are out of step with a Justice Department that has advocated community policing and decried strategies it considers unconstitutional or discriminatory. The Justice Department under Obama has opened wide-ranging investigations of 23 police departments, including those in Baltimore, Chicago and Ferguson. It’s enforcing 19 agreements, including 14 court-enforceable consent decrees. While those agreements are unlikely to be reversed, new attorneys could be lax in enforcing them or in requiring meaningful change when additional police departments come under scrutiny, Smith said.