US: Consent Decrees Enable Leftist Bureaucrats To Govern Undemocratically

US: Consent Decrees Enable Leftist Bureaucrats To Govern Undemocratically. By Darren Beattie.

Judicial consent decrees are a means of settling criminal or civil court cases. Essentially, the two sides of a case agree to resolve it without a finding of guilt or liability, and instead negotiate a legally-binding agreement that is then approved by a judge.

When the two sides of a court case are actual adversaries, a consent decree makes sense. But when both sides of a lawsuit are actually on the same side, consent decrees become very different: They become a means of writing new laws without a single vote, and plundering the public treasury in the meantime.

The left has developed a mastery at exploiting this central vulnerability. For years, consent decrees have operated as a secret weapon for left-wing non-profits operating in close alignment with sympathetic government bureaucrats. …

How it works:

A progressive plaintiff (typically a non-profit) sues a government department alleging some kind of legal violation — typically of civil rights, environmental, or election law. And then, critically, they win without ever even going to trial to hear the case on its merits. Instead, the defending government body announces that the case is simply so strong, so unstoppable, that they must settle before trial. The resulting settlement is then legally binding on the government.

Leftist magic!

Consent decrees allow government to do quickly what would otherwise be time-consuming or outright impossible. For instance, new federal regulations are typically required to go through a lengthy rule-making process that usually takes two to three years. By intentionally losing a lawsuit to a left-wing plaintiff, bureaucratic agencies can have these regulations “forced” on them in far less time through a legal settlement.

For six of Barack Obama’s eight years as president, Republicans controlled the House of Representatives, and so Congress was in no rush to pass new environmental legislation. But that was no burden at all for the EPA, as activists found a new way to ram through the regulations they wanted: Simply have the EPA intentionally lose lawsuits. One analysis found that from 2005 to 2016, the EPA enacted 23 new regulations as a result of “sue-and-settle” lawsuits, imposing more than $20 billion and millions of paperwork hours in regulatory compliance costs. …

Bonus money!

Consent decrees … also serve to directly enrich those filing the lawsuits. Routinely, the federal government agrees to pay thousands or even millions of dollars to cover the legal fees of those who brought the complaint. …

Bypass the elected representatives!

“Sue-and-settle” isn’t just for left-wing NGOs, though. It’s also a weapon of the federal government itself. Consent decrees, for instance, are the primary means by which the left has imposed dramatic changes on policing practices in major American cities, to the detriment of everyone except criminals. Over and over, the Obama Administration followed a strategy of suing police departments for supposed “civil rights” violations, then pressuring them into agreeing to consent decrees which legally required new policing practices. Without passing a single law or even winning a court case, the Obama Administration left cities legally compelled to scale back their anti-crime efforts. …

The apex of the consent decree abuse, though, came with the 2020 election, when Georgia’s grossly incompetent Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger simply allowed Democratic Party activists to rewrite the state’s election laws wholesale, with not a single vote required. …

So, consent decrees are appalling, and arguably shouldn’t be allowed at all when they involve creating new regulations out of thin air. But conservatives have complained about them for about a decade now, and nothing has happened. In 2017, Trump EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued an order ending “sue-and-settle” for his agency, but in a noteworthy reversal, the Biden Administration revived it earlier this year.

The media still pretend we live in democracies with elected representatives in charge, so they almost never mention consent decrees. Who does that omission help? Had you heard of consent decrees?