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stephanie
05-26-2011, 08:22 PM
There's been some discussion about this ruling on the internet, but I haven't seen any here.

California’s prisons are designed to house a population just under 80,000, but at the time of the decision under review the population was almost double that. The resulting conditions are the subject of two federal class actions.... Believing that a remedy for unconstitutional medical and mental health care could not be achieved without reducing overcrowding, the Coleman and Plata plaintiffs moved their respective District Courts to convene a three-judge court empowered by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA) to order reductions in the prison population. The judges in both actions granted the request, and the cases were consolidated before a single three-judge court. After hearing testimony and making extensive findings of fact, the court ordered California to reduce its prison population to 137.5% of design capacity within two years. Finding that the prison population would have to be reduced if capacity could not be increased through new construction, the court ordered the State to formulate a compliance plan and submit it for court approval.

The SC (in an opinion written by Kennedy) affirmed the lower court, so they either need to fix the problem or release prisoners early so as to reduce overcrowding. There are two dissents, one written by Scalia, in which Thomas joined, and one written by Alito, in which Roberts joined.

Scalia made some bizarre comments in his dissent, the most notable in blog posts being the following:

Most of them [the prisoners who potentially could be released early in 2 years] will not be prisoners with medical conditions orsevere mental illness; and many will undoubtedly be fine physical specimens who have developed intimidating muscles pumping iron in the prison gym.

However, I think some of his other statements are actually more remarkable. For example, "One would think that, before allowing the decree of a federal district court to release 46,000 convicted felons, this Court would bend every effort to read the law in such a way as to avoid that outrageous result." Similarly, there are the arguments based on obvious fear of the result and arguments that suggest that judges cannot be competent to analyze evidence given by expert witnesses. The points about what these people might do are significant, since I don't see how such an argument wouldn't be generally applicable if it's relevant -- violation of civil rights? oh, well, admit the evidence (or allow the eavesdropping) anyway, since otherwise someone guilty might go free.

Here's (http://themonkeycage.org/blog/2011/05/25/fear-v-facts/) a more detailed discussion of the case, from The Monkey Cage, which focuses on the fear expressed by some (including the dissents) regarding the effect of the decision* and analyzes the reasonability of those assumptions.

*For example, “I fear that today’s decision will lead to a grim roster of victims” (Alito) and “terrible things are sure to happen as a consequence of this outrageous order” (Scalia).

AemJeff
05-26-2011, 08:45 PM
There's been some discussion about this ruling on the internet, but I haven't seen any here.



The SC (in an opinion written by Kennedy) affirmed the lower court, so they either need to fix the problem or release prisoners early so as to reduce overcrowding. There are two dissents, one written by Scalia, in which Thomas joined, and one written by Alito, in which Roberts joined.

Scalia made some bizarre comments in his dissent, the most notable in blog posts being the following:



However, I think some of his other statements are actually more remarkable. For example, "One would think that, before allowing the decree of a federal district court to release 46,000 convicted felons, this Court would bend every effort to read the law in such a way as to avoid that outrageous result." Similarly, there are the arguments based on obvious fear of the result and arguments that suggest that judges cannot be competent to analyze evidence given by expert witnesses. The points about what these people might do are significant, since I don't see how such an argument wouldn't be generally applicable if it's relevant -- violation of civil rights? oh, well, admit the evidence (or allow the eavesdropping) anyway, since otherwise someone guilty might go free.

Here's (http://themonkeycage.org/blog/2011/05/25/fear-v-facts/) a more detailed discussion of the case, from The Monkey Cage, which focuses on the fear expressed by some (including the dissents) regarding the effect of the decision* and analyzes the reasonability of those assumptions.

*For example, “I fear that today’s decision will lead to a grim roster of victims” (Alito) and “terrible things are sure to happen as a consequence of this outrageous order” (Scalia).

Scalia's reputation as a scholar baffles me. Just to name two, his dissent in Boumediene, and his majority opinion in Heller both struck me as illogical, result oriented (in direct contradiction of the high minded bullshit about original intent and the importance of Constitutional text), and in the the Heller case directly dismissive of Constitutional language.

stephanie
05-26-2011, 09:03 PM
result oriented (in direct contradiction of the high minded bullshit about original intent and the importance of Constitutional text)

Yeah, exactly. He's also quite likely to go off on some weird rant. The most memorable of these for me has always been in the Romer v. Evans case, a small piece of which is the following:

When the Court takes sides in the culture wars, it tends to be with the knights rather than the villains--and more specifically with the Templars, reflecting the views and values of the lawyer class from which the Court's Members are drawn. How that class feels about homosexuality will be evident to anyone who wishes to interview job applicants at virtually any of the Nation's law schools. The interviewer may refuse to offer a job because the applicant is a Republican; because he is an adulterer; because he went to the wrong prep school or belongs to the wrong country club; because he eats snails; because he is a womanizer; because she wears real animal fur; or even because he hates the Chicago Cubs. But if the interviewer should wish not to be an associate or partner of an applicant because he disapproves of the applicant's homosexuality, then he will have violated the pledge which the Association of American Law Schools requires all its member schools to exact from job interviewers.... This law school view of what "prejudices" must be stamped out may be contrasted with the more plebeian attitudes that apparently still prevail in the United States Congress...

There's worse stuff immediately before the bit I quoted (sneering about so-called animus and making assumptions that are in any case irrelevant about the location and political power of gay people), but I find this bit interesting due to the weirdness of ranting about the culture war in a SC dissent in that way. (For the record, though, he's right about the freedom not to hire people for all sorts of dumb reasons, and also that this happens -- one reason the old boys network works and discrimination can persist and be subtle and unintended, much as he'd not make that point.)

Of course, there's a relationship between his popularity and related reputation among some and these kinds of rants. He gives credibility and some language to those who want to say that they are under attack by the leftwing elite.

In addition, when it comes to law, he sees things in a pretty black and white way and being able to make things simple and boil them down to a few basic points is the easiest way to make a legal argument and to write it well. That's one reason O'Connor always got a lot of crap -- she saw both sides and lots of ambiguity and tried to express it in her opinions, so they were often judged to not be well-written or convincing by comparison with the simpler or more one-sided arguments.

Judge Posner, not a leftwing or stupid guy (brilliant, in fact, even though I generally disagree with his law & econ philosophy) has done an excellent job taking apart the supposed simple and clear and purer than all others original intent argument by demonstrating that as used it in fact serves to put the preferences of the judges pushing it (as they are more in line with what was believed to be the common view in the 18th or 19th centuries) over language and the meaning of the actual writing. But (without having a clue what Posner would think of this particular case, as it's irrelevant) I think some of the statements in this case by Scalia are pretty revealing on that score.

Wonderment
05-26-2011, 09:33 PM
I haven't followed the judicial opinions in this case very closely, although I am very interested in prisoners' rights in California.

Couple of points: 1) California has already a plan in place to comply, which mostly consists in transferring some nonviolent prisoners to county jails and sending parole violators to the same county jails rather than back to state prisons; 2) Gov. Brown has reiterated that California will comply as expeditiously as possible (although the state will probably miss deadlines); 3) There has been no plan to "release" anyone, so that argument was either disingenuous or straw man; 4) the state already has mechanisms in place for early release of prison and jail inmates; that is why people like Lindsay Lohan do 24 hours on a 15-day sentence and why; 5) push comes to shove, as it will as long as sentencing guidelines remain Draconian (set by legislators), the state will have to either outsource more to other states (already tried), privatize (already tried) and/or build more prisons (the prison industry and unions love this idea).

It can't be overstated just how appallingly bad CA prisons were to merit this remedy. (Out of sight, out of mind for most Californians, unfortunately.)

Other cans of worms in the penal system to open up include Death Row, where we have over 700 inmates, some of whom have been there for 30 years, psychiatric prisoner (http://articles.latimes.com/2010/dec/28/local/la-me-prison-20101228) cages (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20101231/int/int2.html) and geriatric prisoner care. (http://articles.latimes.com/1994-10-17/news/mn-51369_1_compassionate-release)

operative
05-26-2011, 10:28 PM
I haven't followed the judicial opinions in this case very closely, although I am very interested in prisoners' rights in California.

Couple of points: 1) California has already a plan in place to comply, which mostly consists in transferring some nonviolent prisoners to county jails and sending parole violators to the same county jails rather than back to state prisons; 2) Gov. Brown has reiterated that California will comply as expeditiously as possible (although the state will probably miss deadlines); 3) There has been no plan to "release" anyone, so that argument was either disingenuous or straw man; 4) the state already has mechanisms in place for early release of prison and jail inmates; that is why people like Lindsay Lohan do 24 hours on a 15-day sentence and why; 5) push comes to shove, as it will as long as sentencing guidelines remain Draconian (set by legislators), the state will have to either outsource more to other states (already tried), privatize (already tried) and/or build more prisons (the prison industry and unions love this idea).

It can't be overstated just how appallingly bad CA prisons were to merit this remedy. (Out of sight, out of mind for most Californians, unfortunately.)

Other cans of worms in the penal system to open up include Death Row, where we have over 700 inmates, some of whom have been there for 30 years, psychiatric prisoner (http://articles.latimes.com/2010/dec/28/local/la-me-prison-20101228) cages (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20101231/int/int2.html) and geriatric prisoner care. (http://articles.latimes.com/1994-10-17/news/mn-51369_1_compassionate-release)

I tend to support the general concept of not wasting state resources on nonviolent criminals, so I think it'd be a good idea for CA (and other states) to move toward a different sentencing philosophy.

At the same time, I don't see where this is the court's prerogative. I don't see where it's anything other than judicial abuse for the court to attempt to command a state to follow a specific set of policies (and this is in spite of the fact that I disagree with Scalia's dissent).

Wonderment
05-26-2011, 10:35 PM
I don't see where this is the court's prerogative. I don't see where it's anything other than judicial abuse for the court to attempt to command a state to follow a specific set of policies (and this is in spite of the fact that I disagree with Scalia's dissent).

You agree that "cruel and unusual punishment" is prohibited by the Constitution, right? Since that's indisputable, there's a role for the federal court in ensuring prisoners' rights are not violated.

bjkeefe
05-26-2011, 10:38 PM
I tend to support the general concept of not wasting state resources on nonviolent criminals, so I think it'd be a good idea for CA (and other states) to move toward a different sentencing philosophy.

At the same time, I don't see where this is the court's prerogative. I don't see where it's anything other than judicial abuse for the court to attempt to command a state to follow a specific set of policies (and this is in spite of the fact that I disagree with Scalia's dissent).

I think courts certainly have the prerogative when prison conditions get to the point of cruel and unusual punishment (http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#Am8).

[Added] Ah, Wonderment beat me to it. Good man.

operative
05-26-2011, 10:46 PM
You agree that "cruel and unusual punishment" is prohibited by the Constitution, right? Since that's indisputable, there's a role for the federal court in ensuring prisoners' rights are not violated.

Certainly a fair argument, but I'm not convinced that the conditions in CA prisons reach the level of constituting cruel and unusual punishment.

graz
05-26-2011, 10:53 PM
Certainly a fair argument, but I'm not convinced that the conditions in CA prisons reach the level of constituting cruel and unusual punishment.

You also deny water boarding as torture.

chiwhisoxx
05-27-2011, 03:17 AM
Scalia's reputation as a scholar baffles me. Just to name two, his dissent in Boumediene, and his majority opinion in Heller both struck me as illogical, result oriented (in direct contradiction of the high minded bullshit about original intent and the importance of Constitutional text), and in the the Heller case directly dismissive of Constitutional language.

I thought his Heller decision was pretty good, what in particular pissed you off? I understand why people dislike and disagree with Scalia. But I have a feeling that people who deny his ability just haven't read many of his decisions. Go back and read him in cases like Casey v. Planned Parenthood, Lawerence v. Texas, PGA Tour v. Martin, Barnes v. Glen Theatre, etc....I think he has the capability to not only be cutting and incisive, but also funny, which is not a common feature amongst Supreme Court judges.

stephanie
05-27-2011, 11:09 AM
I haven't followed the judicial opinions in this case very closely, although I am very interested in prisoners' rights in California.

All good points.

Cool that they had a diavlog on this almost immediately after I posted. I realize that it's the obvious timing (the case just came out), but I feel all validated. I suppose it makes my thread unnecessary, though.

stephanie
05-27-2011, 11:42 AM
But I have a feeling that people who deny his ability just haven't read many of his decisions.

I've read lots and lots, including all the ones you mention, and I think his high reputation among many is largely based on his ability to make complex issues simple and his willingness to go there with the political rhetoric, as I said.

Sure, he can be funny, but I don't think that's as rare among judges as you seem to, especially if one has the relatively odd standards for what's funny that one develops in reading judicial opinions.

(The 7th Cir decision that Barnes v. Glen Theater was reviewing is hilarious in numerous respects, especially if you consider the concurring and dissenting opinions. It's probably funnier if one is familiar with the personalities involved, though.)

bjkeefe
05-27-2011, 11:49 AM
All good points.

Cool that they had a diavlog on this almost immediately after I posted. I realize that it's the obvious timing (the case just came out), but I feel all validated. I suppose it makes my thread unnecessary, though.

No no no. You both got people thinking about the issue so they'd have a chance to be more familiar with it and receptive to Josh and Glenn, and you made some booker at Bhtv happy to know that his or her decision was of interest to the commentariat.

chiwhisoxx
05-27-2011, 02:06 PM
So people have brought up the 8th amendment as a potential reason for the courts to be involved here. That seems fine, although the precedent for 8th amendment cases often sets the bar pretty high. My question for Stephanie, or anyone else with more legal knowledge than me: Is it problematic that you could only make an 8th amendment case for some of the prisoners? That is to say, surely many of the people released weren't treated cruelly and unusually. If we're using the 8th as our way in, why doesn't that mean the court can only deal with prisoners that are demonstrated to have been treated cruelly and unusually?

AemJeff
05-27-2011, 02:23 PM
I thought his Heller decision was pretty good, what in particular pissed you off? I understand why people dislike and disagree with Scalia. But I have a feeling that people who deny his ability just haven't read many of his decisions. Go back and read him in cases like Casey v. Planned Parenthood, Lawerence v. Texas, PGA Tour v. Martin, Barnes v. Glen Theatre, etc....I think he has the capability to not only be cutting and incisive, but also funny, which is not a common feature amongst Supreme Court judges.

Good question, crazy time at work, however. The short answer is the general complaint in my original post. His opinion elided language in the Second Amendment that was apparently inconvenient, and provided a flimsy linguistic excuse for that.

stephanie
05-27-2011, 04:18 PM
So people have brought up the 8th amendment as a potential reason for the courts to be involved here.

That is the reason given -- that the condition of prisons in CA, due to the overcrowding, violates the 8th amendment. The case is one of a line of prison condition cases.

That seems fine, although the precedent for 8th amendment cases often sets the bar pretty high. My question for Stephanie, or anyone else with more legal knowledge than me: Is it problematic that you could only make an 8th amendment case for some of the prisoners? That is to say, surely many of the people released weren't treated cruelly and unusually. If we're using the 8th as our way in, why doesn't that mean the court can only deal with prisoners that are demonstrated to have been treated cruelly and unusually?

The condition of the prison is the issue, and it's a class action by all affected by the condition, which includes such things as greater risk of violence, worse medical care, etc. In other words, what they are seeking is that the conditions be fixed, not damages for injury. Thus, I see no problem with the plaintiff class being those who are in prison (or in certain prisons), although I understand that in some of the underlying cases it's actually somewhat more specific (those with serious medical conditions, say).

But the key point, I think, is that the Courts are dealing with the problem by requiring the state to fix the condition that results in cruel and unusual punishment. The remedy is the ending of the overcrowding. So it's not that there needs to be some connection between a prisoner suffering particular injuries and him being released -- the release of an individual is not the remedy. The release of some prisoners (if the state elects to deal with the problem in that way) is merely one avenue to fix the general overcrowding.