Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Congress Seeks to Limit Legislating Federal Courts

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Congress Seeks to Limit Legislating Federal Courts

Article excerpt

Legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives to reform the process of modifying and terminating consent decrees entered against states and local governments, as long called for by NLC.

The bill would give states and local entities the ability to petition to modify or terminate the decree after four years or a change in government.

Civil lawsuits filed against state and local governments often result in consent decrees--judicial orders resulting from agreements brokered between plaintiffs and the public officials being sued. These decrees are binding, legal agreements specifying how a particular problem will be remedied.

Consent decrees, however, can remain in place for decades, locking in policies that were agreed to by officials who are no longer in office.

Newly elected officials often inherit overbroad or outdated consent decrees that limit their ability to govern and respond to the priorities and concerns of their constituents.

Existing procedures discourage current state and local governments from trying to modify or terminate those decrees.

Introduced by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), the Federal Consent Decree Fairness Act (H.R. 3041), applies to all but school desegregation federal court consent decrees involving a state or local government.

The bill provides a three-pronged approach:

* Creates "term limits" for consent decrees. After four years or after the local or state government official who provided consent leaves office (whichever comes sooner), a state or local government could ask the federal court to modify or vacate the decree. …

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