Resource: State Attorneys General as Agents of Police Reform

By: Jason Mazzone, Stephen Rushin

February 27, 2019

Duke Law Journal

This Article provides a cautionary tale about uses of parens patriae by state attorneys general and an alternative. It urges that the common law doctrine of parens patriae should not allow state attorneys general to seek equitable relief in federal district court against local police departments engaged in patterns of misconduct. The Article shows that such uses of parens patriae raise numerous doctrinal and policy concerns. Nevertheless, the Article concludes that state attorneys general are uniquely situated to provide a check on abuses by local law enforcement and that they should be given the tools to do so. As an alternative to using common law parens patriae, both Congress and state legislatures should grant state attorneys general explicit statutory authority to seek equitable relief against local police departments. Empowering state attorneys general in this manner has the potential to curb seemingly intractable problems of police violations of constitutional rights.