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Consent-decree reform

Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) have introduced legislation that would limit the use of federal-court consent decrees, under which private advocates sometimes tie the hands of state and local governments for decades and courts wind up micromanaging school systems, prisons, welfare agencies and so forth. Per an editorial in today's WSJ:

One part of the Alexander-Pryor solution is term limits -- either four years for a decree, or the expiration of the term of the highest elected official who signed his name to it. Their legislation also sensibly shifts the burden of proof for modifying or ending the decree to plaintiffs from state and local governments.

The legislation endorses the view of a unanimous Supreme Court, which in 2004 called for limiting decrees. It warned in Frew v. Hawkins that federal consent decrees could encroach on state and local power. They may "improperly deprive future officials of their designated and executive powers," the Court said. They may also lead "to federal court oversight of state programs for long periods of time even absent an ongoing violation of the law."



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.