Key portions discussing freedom of the press and unlawful racial gerrymandering have been omitted from an important manual used by officials within the Justice Department.
BuzzFeed News reports that the United States Attorney’s Manual, a comprehensive document that helps guide Justice Department lawyers and officials in the nuances of policy, have had important aspects removed on the need for a free press that used to exist within it in prior years.
Also removed are portions of the document that highlighted the department’s work against racial gerrymandering.
While the USAM is not an exhaustive document that lays out the rules and laws enforceable by the DOJ, it is a reference guide that helps that department understand its principles in a more detailed way. Removal of those elements, therefore, is troublesome.
The changes to the document, which were last overhauled in 1997, came from Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who in March justified the revision on the difficulty “for prosecutors to keep track of which memos are still in effect.”
In defending the changes to the manual, a Justice Department statement reiterated that it was meant to be a “quick and ready reference” for lawyers to look to. Rosenstein’s statement in March, however, seems to suggest that it’s used more extensively.
The section on freedom of the press that was removed contained language that is arguably important.
“[C]areful weight must be given in each case to the constitutional requirements of a free press and public trials as well as the right of the people in a constitutional democracy to have access to information about the conduct of law enforcement officers, prosecutors and courts, consistent with the individual rights of the accused,” it read, according to archived versions of the USAM.
The section on unconstitutional racial gerrymandering, similarly removed, also contained language that one could argue is important for prosecutors to read.
“The Voting Section defends from unjustified attack redistricting plans designed to provide minority voters fair opportunities to elect candidates of their choice and endeavors to achieve racially fair results where courts find,” it read, in part.
No references to racial gerrymandering were added to the USAM following that section’s removal.
It is deeply disturbing that these elements have been removed from a manual that is used extensively by the Justice Department, especially at a time when the portions they have taken out are under constant attack by the current administration. A free press is absolutely essential to keep a democracy thriving, and fairness in our elections (including assurances that electoral maps are fairly redrawn) is equally as important.
Removing these two portions from the USAM should concern every American who values preserving democratic freedoms. The Justice Department must reconsider these revisions and ensure that voting and press rights remain a priority.
Banner/Thumbnail Credits: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters