WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration’s law enforcement commission won approval from a federal judge on Monday night to release its controversial report on policing reforms, as long as the Justice Department includes a disclaimer stating that the report was drafted in violation of federal open meeting laws.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge John Bates marks a partial victory for the Justice Department, after Bates temporarily halted the commission’s work last month, blocking its release in response to a lawsuit filed in the spring by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (NAACP LDF).
Attorney General William Barr unveiled the policing commission in January following an executive order by President Donald Trump. The commission had planned to deliver a slate of proposals to the International Association of Chiefs of Police at its annual conference shortly before the presidential election on Nov. 3.
Reuters previously reported exclusively that several people who worked on the commission, including Gina Hawkins, the police chief of Fayetteville, North Carolina, had warned the Justice Department its operations lacked transparency.
Drafts of the report obtained by Reuters through public records requests push for bolstering police surveillance powers and due process protections for officers, but do not address concerns by civil rights advocates about systemic racism in policing.
Many of the controversial recommendations seen by Reuters would require congressional approval and would likely not win support in a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.
The NAACP LDF’s lawsuit said that the Justice Department’s law enforcement commission violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) by not providing notice of public hearings, which effectively denied civil rights groups input, and by stacking the commission with only law enforcement officials.
Bates agreed with the group’s claims, but said banning publication of the final report created First Amendment concerns.
“The Commission certainly has not met FACA’s transparency and fair balance requirements, as this Court has firmly concluded,” Bates wrote in his decision on Monday.
“Serious First Amendment concerns combined with other factors counsel against enjoining publication,” he added.
In a statement late Monday, the advocacy group Fair and Just Prosecution lauded the ruling as a victory for proponents of a more equitable justice system. The disclaimer on the report required by the court “will be a message to all of the lack of legitimacy reflected by a process that blatantly ignored federal law,” its executive director, Miriam Krinsky, said.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Leslie Adler)