S.F. sues U.S. for scrapping civil rights guidelines
SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera opened another front Thursday in the city’s legal combat with the Trump administration, suing Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the unexplained withdrawals of Obama-era civil rights guidelines meant to protect poor people from jail for unpaid fines and strengthen rights of the disabled.
The guidance documents describe the government’s interpretation of federal laws, providing information that can be important to state and local agencies, employers and recipients of federal funds. Sessions withdrew many of them in December, in line with President Trump’s decree to roll back a wide range of federal regulations.
Sessions said the guidelines were “unnecessary, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper.″ In his federal court lawsuit, Herrera said other Justice Department branches have explained in detail why some guidance documents are no longer needed, but the only stated rationale for withdrawing six guidelines — all dealing with minorities, the poor or the disabled — came from Sessions’ vague explanation.
That violates a law requiring federal agencies to engage in “reasoned decision-making″ and provide meaningful explanations for actions that have legal consequences, the suit said.
“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,″ Herrera said in a statement.
He noted that Sessions’ Justice Department has also reversed former President Barack Obama’s policies that sought to protect minority rights by opposing state voter ID laws. In addition, he said, Sessions’ department has refused to enforce court-approved settlements, known as consent decrees, over allegations of discrimination by local police departments.
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.
The suit came two days after San Francisco, represented by Herrera, joined a nationwide suit challenging the Trump administration’s plan to add a question on U.S. citizenship to the 2020 census. The city has also sued Sessions for seeking to withdraw federal funding from San Francisco because of its refusal to aid in federal immigration enforcement.
The guidelines that Thursday’s lawsuit seeks to reinstate include standards for state and local courts that impose fines and fees in criminal cases, and advisories to juvenile courts and probation departments on levels of financial penalties against lawbreaking youths.
Those documents have prompted a number of states to review and overhaul their practices “to avoid perpetuating poverty″ or locking up low-income people because they couldn’t afford to pay fines, the suit said. It said the guidelines were also cited in a successful legal challenge to driver’s license suspensions in Solano County for those who were unable to pay traffic fines.
One of the disability-related guidelines spelled out standards for compliance with a 1999 Supreme Court ruling. The ruling required state and local governments to give people with disabilities the option to live in their own homes or group homes and share workplaces with non-disabled employees.
The guideline helped disabled people “move away from ‘sheltered workshops,’ where they are often paid much less than the minimum wage and are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse,″ the suit said. It said more than 200 disability-rights organizations have protested the guideline’s withdrawal.
In another area, the suit said the Justice Department gave no explanation for withdrawing documents advising employers about compliance with a federal ban on job discrimination based on national origin. — (San Francisco Chronicle)