As a follow-up to a memorandum issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in November 2017, the Office of the Associate Attorney General announced a new policy on January 25, 2018, that prohibits the Department of Justice from using its civil enforcement authority to convert agency guidance documents into binding rules. Under the DOJ’s new policy, agency civil litigators are prohibited from using guidance documents, or noncompliance with guidance documents, to establish violations of law in affirmative civil enforcement actions.

The November memo prohibits the DOJ from issuing guidance documents that have the effect of adopting new regulatory requirements or amendments to the law that are binding on persons or entities outside the Executive Branch. The memo prevents the agency “from evading required rulemaking processes by using guidance memos to create de facto regulations. In the past, the Department of Justice and other agencies had blurred the distinction between regulations and guidance documents,” a DOJ announcement said.

“Although guidance documents can be helpful in educating the public about already existing law, they do not have the binding force or effect of law and should not be used as a substitute for rulemaking,” Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand said.

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