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January 21, 2009

Will a commitment to "transparency and the rule of law" extend to DOJ in the new administration?

This report from CNN about commitments and comments made by President Obama has me very excited about possible reforms of the federal criminal justice system. Here is the start of the article that has me to excited:

Promising "a new era of openness in our country," President Barack Obama signed executive orders Wednesday relating to ethics guidelines for staff members of his administration.  "Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency," Obama said.

As regular readers know well, "openness" and "transparency and the rule of law" have never been the hallmark of the Justice Department when it comes to prosecutorial data and sentencing policies.  

I have long suspected that DOJ has lots of important internal data about its disretionary charging and bargaining and sentencing advocacy practices. But on topics like fast-track pleas or substantial assistance discounts or other critical system-wide concerns, DOJ it has rarely made public or been transparent about its discretionary decision-making.  I am hopeful that the "new era of openness in our country" will include lots of new information from the Justice Department on all crime and punishment concerns. 

January 21, 2009 at 04:02 PM | Permalink


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There is also the matter of the Ashcroft memo, which encouraged the denial of FOIA requests if there was any colorable argument for doing so; no more discretionary disclosures, even when there was no harm to releasing the info. In practice, this morphed into denying virtually anything the agency felt like and forcing the requester to file suit.

Posted by: anon | Jan 21, 2009 6:28:19 PM

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