<< A Symbol for the Abolition Movement Reappears | Main | The Outrageous Heckling That Wasn't >>

Delay and Further Briefing in the California Prison Case

The three-judge court that ordered massive prisoner reduction in California has issued an order delaying the deadline for reaching the prisoner population goal by six months and ordering further briefing.  Understanding this order takes a bit of background.
There were two cases challenging health care conditions in California prisons, the Plata case on general care and the Coleman case on mental health.  As is usual in prison litigation, the prisoners managed to get the cases assigned to the two most pro-prisoner, anti-law-enforcement federal district judges in the state.  Along with injunctions, the Plata court put the whole prison health system in the hands of a receiver, and the Coleman court appointed a special master.  Whether a federal court actually can put an entire state government function in the hands of a receiver consistently with the Tenth Amendment is an issue the state mentioned briefly in some pleadings but surprisingly never followed up on.

When the prisoners asked for population reductions as a further remedy, this triggered a requirement for a three-judge court.  The two judges made a dubiously legal maneuver to combine the cases, filling two of the three slots, and then-Chief Judge Schroeder of the Ninth Circuit completed the criminals' trifecta by appointing the most pro-criminal judge on the Ninth Circuit as the third member of the panel.

Eventually, the three-judge court ordered a reduction in prisoner population to 137.5% of so-called "design capacity," the latter being a largely fictional number with little relation to actual prison capacity.  The Supreme Court affirmed in a dubious decision discussed here.  One of the few redeeming features of the opinion was a warning to the panel that state requests to modify or vacate the order in the future based on improvements in the situation must be taken seriously. 

The state did move to vacate the prisoner reduction order, as noted in this post.  The state also moved to terminate prospective relief in the Coleman case.  Both motions assert the state has fixed the health care problems, at least to the extent of bringing them within constitutional limits.  So shouldn't the state move to end prospective relief in the Plata case as well?  The three-judge court thinks it is odd the state has not and asked the state to explain, the most sensible thing they have said in the whole litigation.  The prisoner reduction order is not lifted, and the cap number is not modified, but the deadline is extended to the end of this year.

If and when the three-judge court actually denies the state's motion, that denial can be appealed directly to the Supreme Court.

Leave a comment

Monthly Archives