Uh, oh. Someone is in big trouble, and this time it is not Donald Trump, well, not the president alone. POTUS appointed what he called a “blue-ribbon law enforcement panel.” Unfortunately, working for this president often means breaking the law, which he apparently feels is fine. This time, they got caught.
A federal judge was not happy and ruled on Thursday that the panel “broke a federal open meeting law.” That meant they had to put down their pencils, paper, and computers and walk out of the room. U.S. District Judge John Bates told them they could not go back to work until they complied with the law.
The Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice membership failed to include civil rights advocates, according to The US News magazine. Plus, its secret meetings were also why the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund brought its lawsuit again the commission.
Judge Bates called them out for violating the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The White House put current and previous law-enforcement people on the 18-member panel. They broke the law when they held closed meetings and did not notify the public in advance in the Federal Register as required by law.
The purpose of the commission was to create a report for Attorney General William Barr in October. This report was to include a proposed set of “law and order” reforms. The judge said the panel would not be able to continue with its work products until it does so, and that could be well after the November elections. Plus, the administration needed to mix up the membership of that panel.
Basically, Bates’ 45-page ruling was built around a 1972 transparency law. At its heart was. the need for the panel to be “fairly balanced’ in its member make-up. The judge said populating it with only members of the law enforcement community did not meet that bar.
The George W. Bush-appointed judge on the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund (LDF) lawsuit from April called it “a stark example of noncompliance,” according to The POLITICO magazine:
‘The Court is hard pressed to think of a starker example of non-compliance with FACA’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.’
The judge continued:
‘The Commission includes no members from civil rights groups like LDF. Nor does it include any criminal defense attorney, academic, civic leader, or representative of a community organization or social service organization. Instead, all eighteen Commissioners are current or former law enforcement. This precisely the type of imbalance that FACA sought to prevent.’
The San Francisco-located 9th Circuit decided that the “fair balance” requirement in FACA was too broad for the courts to decide, Bates wrote. However, he believed stare decisis (settled law) came down on the side of judicial enforcement, particularly in grievous situations such as this one.
In addition, Judge Bates rejected the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) legal arguments that this panel could be exempted from the transparency rule, because it fell within a 1995 exemption. That exemption applied to committees which only worked on situations between the “federal and state, local or tribal governments.”
The judge continued writing that as the DOJ defined this exemption, there would be “no limiting principle.” In other words, that would take all of the meat out of the law.
Thus far, the panel has held 14 of the meetings by teleconference due to the coronavirus pandemic-limited face-to-face meetings. The panel’s attorneys argued that the majority of the meetings were public with a transcript and audio recording.
Judge Bates added that the DOJ admitted the meetings were not public when applied to the transparency statute.
Twitter world went wild when it heard about the secret meetings. Check out some of our favorite American responses below:
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