Arkansas prisons limit the length of inmates’ beards to a quarter inch. One of those inmates, a Muslim whose faith requires a full beard, tried to compromise by only growing his beard to a half inch but that was still too long for the warden. Contraband might be concealed in the half-inch beard, or the inmate could change his appearance to evade detection by shaving the beard.
None of those arguments were even considered plausible by the justices when the case, Holt v. Hobbs, was argued today. Justice Alito suggested using a comb on the beard “to see if a SIM card – or a revolver – falls out.” And Scalia asked why not take a photo of the inmate before he grows the beard?
“You’re really just making your case too easy”, the chief justice told petitioner’s lawyer, Douglas Laycock pictured above.
Arkansas Deputy Attorney General David A. Curran didn’t have much to show why the courts should defer to the bureau of prisons.
All bets are that the Court votes 9-0; not even close to a close shave.
The Supreme Court today upheld the release of over 30,000 prisoners in California as one remedy for overcrowding. Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion in the bitterly divided, 5-4, case : Brown v. Plata ( formerly Schwarzenegger v. Plata when argued November 30, 2010 ).
As is becoming more common in cases where there is sharp disagreement Justice Scalia read his pungent – adjective stolen from NYT’s Liptak – dissent from the bench as Kennedy – on the right below – stared straight ahead.
Andrew Cohen has written about the Court’s decision and the long simmering issue of growing prisoner population here.
A sketch of Justice Ginsburg reading her opinion in Skinner v. Switzer :
WaPo story here.
It was a lively debate as the Justices considered whether a District Court in California can compel the release of inmates from overcrowded prisons.
As the lawyer for California began his arguments by raising the specter of “between 36,000 and 45,000 inmates” released into the population Justice Sotomayor asked him to “slow down the rhetoric and give me concrete details”. But after 80 minutes of arguments from both sides the lawyer, Carter Phillips, said in concluding “I guarantee you that there is going to be more crime and people are going to die on the streets of California.”
And the prisoners’ lawyer, Donald Specter, got it from Justice Alito : “If this order goes into effect, we will see. We will see, and the people of California will see”.
The case is Schwarzenegger v. Plata
Lyle Denniston’s analysis here.