Sessions Withdraws Obama-Era Memo on Court Fines, Fees

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rescinding an Obama-era Justice Department letter that asked local courts across the U.S. to be wary of slapping poor defendants with fines and fees to fill their jurisdictions’ coffers.

The action is part of a broad rollback of guidance that Sessions believes overreached, reports the Washington Post. Sessions is revoking 25 previous guidance documents dating back decades and covering topics as diverse as Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives procedures and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Sessions said he was ending “the long-standing abuse of issuing rules by simply publishing a letter or posting a web page.” He added, “Congress has provided for a regulatory process in statute, and we are going to follow it. This is good government and prevents confusing the public with improper and wrong advice.”

Sessions has imposed a new charging policy that calls for prosecutors to pursue the most serious offenses possible. He has restored the use of private prisons. He has adjusted the department’s legal stances on issues involving voting rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

Sessions said he will stop issuing issuing documents that try “to impose new obligations on any party outside the executive branch,” saying too that he would “review and repeal existing guidance documents that violate this common-sense principle.” The letter on fines and fees was sent last year to all state chief judges and court administrators.

It noted that illegal imposition of fines and fees had been receiving attention, and that DOJ had a “strong interest” in making sure the rights of citizens were protected. The White House and DOJ had convened a summit on the issue, and DOJ alleged in a lawsuit that officers in Ferguson, Mo., were violating citizens’ civil rights in by policing tactics meant to generate revenue.

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