The Justice Department said Friday that it no longer will settle lawsuits through consent decrees that require the government to change regulations or seek additional funds. It said that such agreements have caused "unwarranted expansion" of judicial power at the expense of presidential powers.
The new policy, which officials said may force public-interest groups to take more cases to trial, will affect litigation on issues ranging from civil rights and the environment to prisons and mental hospitals. Consent decrees are settlements approved by a judge and subject to enforcement by court order.
New guidelines, detailed in a memo from Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III, said that the department will no longer sign consent decrees that order the government to spend money not appropriated by Congress or to seek congressional approval of new spending. The memo also ruled out decrees that would require the Administration to revise federal regulations or propose new ones.
Some past consent decrees have served "to preempt the exercise of . . . prerogatives by a subsequent administration," Meese said.
Assistant Atty. Gen. Charles J. Cooper, head of the department's Office of Legal Policy, said that the focus of the new policy is on decrees that contain "an elaborate recipe on how the executive branch is going to act thereafter. Frankly, I don't think it will be that often."