Sessions revokes dozens of guidance documents that protect marginalized communities

Attorney General: The documents are "used to circumvent the regulatory process."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions stands at a news conference in Baltimore, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Attorney General Jeff Sessions stands at a news conference in Baltimore, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that he would rescind 25 Justice Department guidance documents on a variety of topics aimed at protecting marginalized communities.

The documents — many of which were released during the Obama administration — include procedures to help eliminate fees against juvenile offenders, standards outlining discrimination protections for disabled individuals and for people seeking U.S. citizenship, and an overview of housing discrimination practices.

In a statement released by the DOJ, Sessions said his decision “prevents confusing the public with improper and wrong advice,” adding that “any guidance that is outdated, used to circumvent the regulatory process, or that improperly goes beyond what is provided for in statutes or regulation should not be given effect.”

The move follows Sessions’ November memo, in which he prohibited the DOJ “from issuing guidance documents that have the effect of adopting new regulatory requirements or amending the law.” The memo goes on to say that, “In the past, the Department of Justice and other agencies have blurred the distinction between regulations and guidance documents.”

In February, President Donald Trump issued an executive order calling for federal agencies to review their regulations and terminate guidance documents and policy memos in an effort to “alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens placed on the American people.”

Most of the guidance revoked on Thursday impacts the most marginalized, including the poor, the disabled, and people of color. One such document was a 2016 Dear Colleague letter that asked courts to review their policies relating to charging individuals accused of minor misdemeanors with illegal fines and fees.

The letter, which has since been removed from the DOJ website (although a cached version can be found here), states that “The harm caused by unlawful practices … can be profound. Individuals may confront escalating debt; face repeated, unnecessary incarceration for nonpayment despite posing no danger to the community; lose their jobs; and become trapped in cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape.”

Sessions rescinded a related January 2017 letter that highlighted the impact that such fines and fees can have on juvenile offenders who are often charged with fees for counseling, drug testing, mental health evaluations, and treatment programs. “These fines and fees can be economically debilitating to children and their families and can have an enduring impact on a child’s prospects,” the letter reads.

The list of revoked guidance also included a 2012 letter that clarified discrimination protections for legal permanent residents, a statement overview of the Fair Housing Act, and general questions and answers pertaining to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As Sessions rescinds dozens of documents aimed at protecting Americans, he has also, over the past year, introduced guidance that discriminates against them. In October, the attorney general reversed a 2014 policy that protected transgender people from workplace discrimination. That same month, Sessions issued guidance regarding “Protections for Religious Liberty” that adversely affects LGBTQ rights. And over the summer, Sessions released an order allowing law enforcement officers to seize property from individuals who have not been charged with a crime, a policy that would unjustly target people of color.