Tag Archives: doj

New emails show the Justice Department is helping Big Oil fight climate lawsuits

Three years ago, a first-of-its-kind legal case argued that fossil fuel companies were liable for climate change — and should pay up to help cities adapt. That case, filed in July 2017 by two counties and one city in California against 20 fossil fuel companies, alleged that emissions from those companies will be responsible for an estimated 7.4 feet of sea-level rise in coming years.

What happened next is reminiscent of what occurred in the 1990s, when states filed lawsuits against tobacco companies in droves and the public rapidly soured on the industry. More California cities filed climate liability lawsuits against Big Oil, seeking reparations for climate change and its effects. Then other cities and counties from across the country filed their own suits. Oil companies went to court over claims that they lied to investors and the public about climate change, damaged fisheries, and impinged on young people’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

At every turn, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips, and Shell fought tooth and nail against the wave of lawsuits, arguing that the plaintiffs should look to the federal government, not the private sector, for financial assistance related to climate change. Now, a new investigation from InsideClimate News has revealed that the federal government has been working with some of those oil companies to oppose the wave of lawsuits.

Some 178 pages of emails between U.S. Department of Justice attorneys and industry lawyers — obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council — show the government has been planning to come to the aid of these lawsuit-afflicted companies since early 2018. Not only did the DOJ work on an amicus — “friend of the court” — brief in support of major oil companies shortly after the San Francisco and Oakland lawsuits were filed, but the department was also working with Republican attorneys generals from 15 states to come up with a plan to help those companies. Department of Justice attorneys had several phone calls with lawyers defending BP, Chevron, Exxon, and other oil companies, and even met some of them in person.

Curiously, the Department of Justice did not reach out to the plaintiffs in the cases, like the cities of Oakland and San Francisco, to collaborate. The department’s environmental division, which bills itself as “the nation’s environmental lawyer,” opted to covertly work with industry groups rather than the communities it’s supposed to represent.

“The Trump administration’s position is ‘We’re going to side with the fossil fuel interests in the nuisance cases over these cities,’” Phillip Gregory, co-council for the young people’s climate case, Juliana v. United States, told Grist.

“It’s very unusual for the federal government to be so aligned with industry on a damages case,” he said, particularly when the government isn’t implicated in the case. If the lawsuits were successful, oil companies, not the federal government, would be compelled to pay the damages.

Still, it’s unclear whether the DOJ crossed a line. “It wouldn’t pass the sniff test if the DOJ was trying to address substantive issues,” Justin Smith, former deputy assistant attorney general in DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, told InsideClimate News. “If the meetings were about the logistics, there’s nothing improper.”

To Gregory, the DOJ’s actions appear nothing if not political. “The Trump administration wants to control all dealings concerning fossil fuels, even though the fossil fuels are harming the youth of America,” he said. “It’s very capable of looking out for the fossil fuel industry — capable and willing.”

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New emails show the Justice Department is helping Big Oil fight climate lawsuits

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"The Most Dangerous Justice Department in Decades"

Mother Jones

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On a rainy Thursday morning, several members of Congress joined civil rights activists, policy experts, and former Obama administration officials for a forum on the future of civil rights in the Trump era. In the room typically occupied by the House Judiciary Committee, a common refrain quickly emerged. “The backstop that has been the civil rights enforcement of the federal government is no more,” said Catherine Lhamon, chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights.

In a wide-ranging discussion, panelists noted that the Trump administration is pulling back on the federal government’s interest in influencing a number of civil rights’ issues; transgender rights, immigration policy, voting rights, and fair housing were all discussed. But with a recent Justice Department memo calling for a review of all Obama-era police reform agreements or “consent decrees,” police reform received the most attention of any subject.

The memo, which was issued last week, but wasn’t made public until Monday, reveals a Justice Department highly skeptical of the importance of police oversight and reluctant to conduct further reviews of police departments. “The misdeeds of individual bad actors should not impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work that law enforcement agencies perform in keeping American communities safe,” it states.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been a frequent critic of consent decrees in the past. In February, Sessions, admitting that he hadn’t read the full reports after reviews of police departments in Ferguson and Chicago revealed widespread abuses disproportionately targeted at black residents, described them as “pretty anecdotal.” Earlier this week, the Justice Department asked a US District court to delay its hearing of the proposed consent decree between the DOJ and the Baltimore Police Department. (The request was refused and the hearing was held on Thursday.)

Ron Davis, the former director of the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services during the Obama administration, noted that the Justice Department was “going back to the 1990s to fight a war that we have already lost.”

“We have advanced policing to a science; to go back to practices that we know are ineffective is outright ridiculous,” Davis added. Other panelists pointed out that the Justice Department could not unilaterally end reform agreements already in place, saying that the recent memo reflected a deep misunderstanding of how the process works.

Hassan Aden, a member of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration and former chief of the Greenville, North Carolina, Police Department, addressed the administration’s approach to immigration enforcement, recalling his personal experience with Trump’s controversial “Muslim Ban.” Last month, US Customs and Border Patrol detained Aden as he returned to the US from a trip to Paris to celebrate his mother’s birthday. “My detention was 90 minutes,” he said, adding he never had any issues with customs before this year. “But there are others where their detention is significantly longer.”

The panelists’ concerns about the DOJ extended beyond the role it plays in law enforcement. Gavin Grimm, a transgender teen who has become a prominent transgender rights advocate after suing his local school board for limiting his access to school restrooms, spoke of the DOJ’s recent decision to back away from an Obama-era guidance requiring schools to let children to use the facility that matched their gender identity. Grimm’s case was scheduled to go to the Supreme Court but was removed from the court’s calendar shortly after the DOJ changed its position on transgender student guidance. “The decision to withdraw the guidance sent a terrible message to some of the most vulnerable people,” Grimm said. Despite President Trump’s campaign trail promises to protect the LGBT community, his administration was doing the opposite. “Actions speak louder than words,” Grimm said.

The congressional forum was officially hosted by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee. But unofficially, it was an event led by the Congressional Black Caucus, with several members—including caucus chair Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.)—speaking. Since Trump assumed office, CBC members have become some of the president’s loudest critics, and, comprising nearly one quarter of Democrats in Congress, a powerful voice for the party, particularly regarding civil rights.

Last month, members of the CBC executive leadership met with the president, sharing a policy document that outlined its vision for black America. After the meeting, Richmond said that the caucus would continue to remain in contact with the president and planned to hold meetings with several members of the Cabinet, including with Attorney General Sessions.

If today’s forum is any indication, that meeting will not be a pleasant one. “We may be seeing the most dangerous Department of Justice that we have seen in decades,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas). “We will continue to fight.”

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"The Most Dangerous Justice Department in Decades"

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The Trump Administration Just Suffered a Defeat on Voting Rights

Mother Jones

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In a significant rebuke of the Trump administration Monday, a federal judge in Texas rejected the Department of Justice’s request to halt a major voting rights case that had been filed during Obama administration.

The case in question dates back to 2013, when the Obama DOJ joined voting rights advocates, Democratic lawmakers, and a group of Texas residents in suing to block a draconian voter ID law in Texas. This coalition scored a major victory last year when a federal appeals court ruled that the law discriminated against minorities and needed to be softened. The Texas legislature is currently working on amending the law.

However, the appeals court left open a key question in the case: whether the discrimination was intentional. It sent the case back to federal district court for a determination on that issue. The question of intent is significant. The finding of a discriminatory effect necessitates altering the law. But if the court finds that Texas acted with a discriminatory intent, the judge could throw the law out entirely. What’s more, if Texas is found to have engaged in intentional voting discrimination, a judge could require the state to seek federal approval for future changes to its voting laws. In arguing that Texas lawmakers indeed sought to discriminate against minorities, critics of the law pointed out that it allows voters to prove their identifies with concealed carry permits, which are disproportionately held by white people, but excludes IDs issued to state employees and state university students, which minorities are more likely to have.

But after Trump was sworn in and Jeff Sessions became attorney general, the federal government changed course. In February, the DOJ requested to withdraw its claim that the law was enacted with discriminatory intent, arguing that the Fifth Circuit’s instructions were to let the legislature amend the law before the courts decided whether to resolve to the intent question. In March, the government urged the court not to issue any opinion until after the legislature had acted. On Monday, the court allowed the US government to withdraw from the case—but rejected its reasoning for trying to halt the case.

United States District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos took issue with the idea that the state legislature’s action would remove the need to litigate the intent issue. “It is well-settled that new legislation does not ipso facto eliminate the discriminatory intent behind older legislation and moot a dispute regarding the violation of law,” the judge wrote. In her eight page order, she went on to dispute the logic the government’s lawyers presented in their briefs and cited multiple cases to explain why the case should proceed. The judge indicated she will issue a ruling on the discriminatory intent question this spring, without waiting on Texas lawmakers to act.

In a series of tweets, Gerry Hebert, an attorney representing the plaintiffs fighting this law, celebrated the judge’s order as “good news for voters seeking relief” and an “important victory.”

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The Trump Administration Just Suffered a Defeat on Voting Rights

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DOJ Inspector General to Review Comey Letter

Mother Jones

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Well, this is interesting:

I doubt that this will find anything illegal about Comey’s actions. However, at the very least it should provide us with a detailed rundown of just how Comey decided to release his letter and what advice he ignored when he did it.

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DOJ Inspector General to Review Comey Letter

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Federal Bureau of Prisons Renews Contract With the Company Formerly Known as CCA

Mother Jones

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The private prison company formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America—recently rebranded CoreCivic—announced Tuesday that the Federal Bureau of Prisons will extend its two-year contract with the company, despite recent findings of inadequate supervision and gaps in oversight of private prisons.

In August, the Department of Justice announced that it would phase out its use of private prisons. The announcement came on the heels of a blockbuster Mother Jones investigation of a Louisiana CCA prison by reporter Shane Bauer, and just one week after the DOJ’s inspector general released a report that found shortcomings in safety, security, and oversight at private prisons used by the government. The Bureau of Prisons is a subsidiary of the DOJ.

The Bureau of Prisons’ 1,633-bed contract extension for the McRae Correctional Facility in Georgia goes against the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who in an August memo explained the DOJ decision to end its partnerships with private prisons. “As each private prison contract reaches the end of its term, the bureau should either decline to renew that contract or substantially reduce its scope in a manner consistent with law and the overall decline of the bureau’s inmate population,” Yates wrote. “This is the first step in the process of reducing, and ultimately ending, our use of privately operated prisons.”

The renewed contract covers 8 percent fewer beds than the former.

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Federal Bureau of Prisons Renews Contract With the Company Formerly Known as CCA

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Monsanto May Soon Cease to Exist

Mother Jones

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And then there were three?

On Tuesday, marriage negotiations between seed/pesticide giant Monsanto and its suitor, German behemoth Bayer, got hotter than a corn field at high noon in late summer. Bayer sweetened its offer to $56.5 billion Tuesday afternoon, just as Monsanto’s Board of Directors was scheduled to meet to consider the offer, according to Bloomberg News. The companies could agree to terms as early as Wednesday—but the merger could “still fall apart,” the news service reported, adding that “if successful, it would lead to the biggest deal this year and the largest ever by a German company.”

In its current incarnation, Bayer is mainly a pharmaceutical company, with interests in prescription drugs, over-the-counter staples like aspirin, and animal medicines. But it also has a large division devoted to selling seeds and pesticides—and it has been itching for months to expand those business lines by taking over Monsanto.

This deal would represent a massive step in a remarkable recent run of mergers among the handful of companies that dominate those markets. Late last year, Dow and DuPont—two US chemical behemoths with large agribusiness divisions—agreed to merge. A few months later, after fending off an aggressive and persistent bid from Monsanto, Swiss seed/pesticide titan Syngenta jumped into the the clutches of ChemChina, a conglomerate owned by the Chinese government.

Here’s what the agribusiness landscape will look like if Bayer buys Monsanto and these mergers clear regulatory hurdles—a big if. These charts are updated from my December post on the Dow-DuPont merger.

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However, such hyper-consolidation of markets that are so crucial to the global food supply may be too much for US and EU antitrust authorities to digest. The European Commission recently threw doubt on the Dow-DuPont deal by halting its process for approving the merger, pending more information from the two companies.

Back in August, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R.-Iowa) announced the US Senate Judiciary Committee would soon hold hearings on the deal, based on concerns among farmers that the “sudden consolidation in the industry” would give remaining players the leverage to raise seed and pesticide prices. Earlier this week, 250 members of the National Farmers Union descended on Washington, DC, to protest the recent consolidation wave, complaining that it reduced competition and raises the price of seeds and chemicals “while farmers are already being squeezed by weak commodity markets,” Reuters reports.

But it’s the executive branch, mainly the Department of Justice, that has ultimate authority on whether Dow-DuPont and possible Bayer-Monsano tie-up passes US regulatory muster—and it has shown recent willingness to halt mergers in the agribiz space. Just two weeks ago, the DOJ sued to halt a relatively small deal between Monsanto and farm-equipment giant John Deere. Monsanto had agreed to sell its precision-planting arm—involving machines that allow farmers to plant seeds at variable rates across fields—to Deere for $190 million. Not so fast, said the DOJ in its complaint, noting that the deal would give Deere 86 percent of the US market for these tools.

As I noted back in the July, the Democratic Party, after years of acquiescence to a long wave of mergers in the agribusiness space and in corporate America at large, is recently showing showing signs that it thinks enough is enough. Even if Bayer-Monsanto gains support from those companies’ shareholders, the deal will likely have to hoe a tough row before its vast profit potential can be harvested.

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Monsanto May Soon Cease to Exist

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Justice Department Is Investigating Treatment of Gay and Trans Prisoners

Mother Jones

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The Justice Department and the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia have launched a joint investigation into the treatment of gay and transgender inmates in Georgia prisons. The DOJ confirmed to the Georgia Voice that this is the first time it has opened an investigation focused on LGBT prisoners.

The probe follows the high-profile case of Ashley Diamond, a transgender woman who, as Mother Jones reported last year, sued employees in Georgia’s correctional department for allegedly denying her medical treatment and failing to protect her from sexual assault while she was detained. She was released from prison last August, and the lawsuit was settled in February.

“All prisoners in Georgia institutions are entitled to serve their time safely, especially if physical harm or abuse occurs because of a prisoner’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” John Horn, US attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, told the Georgia Voice.

The DOJ recently released new national guidelines to help protect transgender inmates, who face high rates of sexual assault.

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Justice Department Is Investigating Treatment of Gay and Trans Prisoners

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Philadelphia Cops Shoot and Kill People at 6 Times the Rate of the NYPD

Mother Jones

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Philadelphia, a city with a vastly smaller population than that of New York City, has seen a much higher rate of police shootings in recent years. According to a new report published on Monday by the US Department of Justice, police violence disproportionately affects Philadelphia’s black community, and officers don’t receive consistent training on the department’s deadly force policy.

The 174-page report results from an investigation the DOJ launched in 2013 at the request of Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, during a time when officer-involved shootings, including fatal incidents, were on the rise, even as violent crimes and assaults against the police was on the decline. “Police carry baggage and lack legitimacy in some communities,” Ramsey, who has been appointed to chair the Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing, recently told the New York Times. “And for us to change the paradigm, we have to understand why we are viewed in this way.”

The DOJ’s Philadelphia investigation, which examined nearly 400 deadly force incidents between 2007 and 2013, provides a rare close-up of the patterns of officer-involved shootings. The report follows on the heels of another damning report the DOJ published on the city of Ferguson, where federal investigators found systematic racial discrimination among public officials and police.

While it’s nearly impossible to know how much the findings in Philadelphia represent police practices across the country—there is no comprehensive national data on police officers’ use of force, as we reported last year—the DOJ probe does reveal an alarming rate of shootings when compared to other large departments. Philadelphia’s police force, which is one-fifth the size of the NYPD, saw dozens more officer shootings resulting in deaths and injuries than those by the NYPD over the same period.

Here are a few key findings from Monday’s report:

In a city where blacks and whites each make up about 45 percent of the population, almost 60 percent of the officers involved in shootings between 2007 and 2013 were white, while 81 percent of suspects involved were black.



In nearly half of officer-involved shootings of an unarmed victim, the officer mistook a nonthreatening object for a gun.


Black suspects were the most likely to get shot because of a misidentified object. White suspects were the most likely to be involved in a physical altercation that resulted in the officer shooting.


Among officer-involved shootings in which the victim was black, black and Hispanic officers were more likely than their white counterparts to have shot at a suspect after mistaking a plain object for a gun.


While the overall number of officer-involved shootings declined between 2007 and 2013, the share of victims who were unarmed during those incidents more than tripled, from 6 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2013.


Officers initiated the encounter in 43 percent of officer-involved shootings in 2013, down from nearly 60 percent in 2007 and nearly 70 percent in 2008.


Out of 382 suspects involved in the shootings between 2007 and 2013, about 88 were killed, 180 injured, and 115 unharmed. The majority of suspects brandished a weapon but did not shoot, held a weapon other than a firearm, or were unarmed. Forty-nine suspects (13 percent) shot at the officer, injuring six and killing one.


The average time spent on investigating an officer involved shooting has declined from 417 days in 2007 to 264 days in 2013.


Out of 88 officers who were found to have violated department policy during a shooting incident, 73 percent were not suspended or terminated. Some interviewees told the Justice Department they believed that the department’s board of inquiry undermined findings from internal reviews of officer shootings, resulting in “too little discipline.”


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Philadelphia Cops Shoot and Kill People at 6 Times the Rate of the NYPD

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Two Police Officers Shot During Ferguson Protest After Police Chief Resigns

Mother Jones

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Two police officers were shot near a protest outside the Ferguson Police Department on Wednesday night, according to St Louis police officials. In a press briefing just before 2 a.m. local time Thursday morning, St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar confirmed that one officer was wounded in the shoulder, and another officer was shot in the face. Who fired the shots remains unclear. A spokesperson for the St. Louis County Police said the two officers sustained “very serious,” but non-life threatening injuries.

The protests came after Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III announced earlier on Wednesday that Police Chief Thomas Jackson would resign with one year’s salary and health insurance.

Jackson resigned a week after the US Department of Justice issued a scathing report about systemic race-based problems within the Ferguson, Missouri police department and court system. This comes the day after City Manager John Shaw resigned. Both will receive a year’s salary as severance ($96,000 for Jackson, $120,000 for Shaw), and a year’s worth of health insurance—a fact that was met with outrage both in Ferguson and on social media.

Municipal Judge Ronald J. Brockmeyer also resigned in the wake of the DOJ’s report, which accused the city administration of using police ticketing and court fines, imposed on the city’s largely African American population, as a means to raise money for the city budget. That context set the stage for violent police crackdowns in the city last August as people protested in the wake of Officer Darren Wilson shooting and killing Michael Brown. Wilson wasn’t indicted by a local grand jury, and the DOJ announced last week that it wouldn’t bring federal civil rights charges against him either. Many in the city want others to resign as well, including Knowles III and the city council.

The DOJ’s report highlighted the glaring disproportionate police ticketing of the city’s black population, and highlighted several racist emails sent by city and police administration officials. Two officers involved with the emails resigned last week, and the city’s top court clerk was fired.

The Department of Justice issued a statement shortly after Jackson’s press conference saying that it will continue working for a court-enforceable agreement to reform the city and police department’s “unconstitutional practices in a comprehensive manner.”

Protesters gathered at the city’s police department headquarters Wednesday night after the announcement, with police arresting at least one man and some accusing the police of provoking confrontations.

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Two Police Officers Shot During Ferguson Protest After Police Chief Resigns

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Report: Justice Department to Condemn Racially Biased Policing in Ferguson

Mother Jones

The US Department of Justice may have passed on filing federal charges against former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson after he shot and killed Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb last summer, but the department isn’t letting the city’s police force totally off the hook. According to the New York Times, the DOJ is about to release a report that accuses the Ferguson Police Department—and the city itself—of systemically mistreating the community’s African American population with discriminatory traffic stops; disproportionate ticketing, arrests, and court fines; and physical abuse at the hands of police officers.

According to the Times‘ Matt Apuzzo, the DOJ will recommend a series of changes at the department. If the city doesn’t agree, the DOJ could sue to force reforms. The DOJ has court-backed agreements with nearly two dozen police departments around the country (including the island-wide force in Puerto Rico), and is fighting four other departments in court over proposed changes.

If the Times is right, the report will bolster and likely add to information that has been documented in the past by activists, advocates, and at least one state-level agency in Missouri. As Mother Jones reported in September 2014, fines and court fees are Ferguson’s second-larges revenue source, and warrants were issued in 2013 at a rate of three per household (25,000 in a city of 21,000 people).

Another Mother Jones report—based off findings from the Missouri Attorney General’s office—noted that in 2013 in Ferguson, 86 percent of traffic stops and 92 percent of searches of individuals involved African American. That’s in a city that’s around 60% black (and one that had, at the time of Brown’s death, just three black police officers). Despite the cops’ focus on Ferguson’s black residents, just one in five black people police searched were found to be carrying contraband. For white people, that number was one in three.

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Report: Justice Department to Condemn Racially Biased Policing in Ferguson

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