Herrera sues Sessions to restore civil rights protections for the poor, people of color and people with disabilities

U.S. Attorney General unlawfully repealed six significant civil rights documents with no explanation

SAN FRANCISCO (April 5, 2018) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced today that he had filed a federal lawsuit against U.S. Attorney General Jefferson Sessions over Sessions’ decision to rescind civil rights protections for youth, immigrants, the poor, people of color and people with disabilities.

In December 2017 Sessions rescinded 25 U.S. Department of Justice guidance documents, which set forth the federal government’s interpretation of various laws. Sessions claimed that the documents were “unnecessary, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper.”  However, slipped into the mix of the 25 repealed documents were six significant civil rights documents for which the Department of Justice has provided no meaningful explanation for their repeal as required by law under the Administrative Procedure Act. The department has also refused to disclose who was on a task force that selected the documents for repeal.

“The Trump administration is trying to gut protections for the poor, people of color and people with disabilities under the guise of regulatory reform,” Herrera said. “It’s appalling. Thankfully, they have been caught. This administration talks a good game about helping the working class, but their actions do the opposite. They’re trying to strip civil rights protections from some of our most vulnerable neighbors and keep them marginalized or mired in poverty while they’re helping out Wall Street tycoons and oil conglomerates. More than 50 years after the Civil Rights Act was passed, we should be surging forward on equality in this country, not having to fight the federal government to restore civil rights protections. At a minimum, the public is entitled to an explanation of why this was done.”

Herrera’s complaint, filed this morning in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, seeks to have the court void the Department of Justice’s repeal and to reinstate those six guidance documents. The documents include directions to:

  • state and local governments to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring options for people with disabilities to live and work within their communities rather than in segregated institutions or isolated workshops where they are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse
  • state and local governments to comply with the Constitution and federal law when imposing fines and fees to avoid perpetuating poverty and jailing people unnecessarily because they can’t pay a high fine
  • DOJ grant recipients like juvenile probation departments to ensure nondiscrimination in fines or fees for juvenile offenders
  • local governments to comply with the fair Housing Act by ensuring that that they do not treat groups of people with disabilities less favorably than similar groups without disabilities, such as passing local laws that restrict the ability of people with disabilities to live together
  • employers to prevent them from discriminating against individuals on the basis of national origin
  • employers to conduct citizen documentation audits so they know they’re in compliance with the law

About the Case

The case was brought with the assistance of the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project, a partnership between the City Attorney’s Office and Yale Law School. 

Department of Justice guidance documents state the agency’s interpretation of governing law or regulations in order to advise parties about their legal rights and obligations.

Before rescinding a guidance document, the Administrative Procedure Act requires agencies to disclose the basis for doing so. The reason is to allow members of the public and the courts to understand and evaluate the legitimacy of that action.

Here, after Sessions rescinded 25 documents he gave no meaningful explanation for why he was rescinding six of them, which violates the act. 

In response to Sessions’ rescission, the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a statement “strongly criticiz[ing]” the move and urged Sessions to reverse course, saying:  

“Attorney General Sessions trumpeted the truism 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.’ That claim does not, however, apply to these recent, narrowly crafted, urgently applicable guidance documents.”

“The mission of the U.S. Department of Justice is ‘to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans,’ ” Herrera said. “Under the leadership of Attorney General Sessions, the department has shown a shocking disregard for protecting the rights of marginalized communities, rolling back civil rights initiatives in a wide variety of areas. As Americans, we have an obligation to stand up and right that wrong.”

The case is: City and County of San Francisco v. Jefferson B. Sessions III et al., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Case No. 3:18-cv-02068, filed April 5, 2018. Additional documentation from the case is available on the City Attorney’s website at: sfcityattorney.org.

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