Justice Department Sued Over Rescinded Disability Guidance
SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera opened another front this week 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 those with disabilities.
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 Donald 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 branches of the U.S. Department of Justice 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 those with disabilities — came from Sessions’ vague explanation.
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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.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
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.
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 employees who don’t have disabilities.
The guideline helped people with disabilities “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.
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