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SCOTUS: No Jurisdiction to Hear Cal. Prison Appeal

The US Supreme Court took a narrow view of its jurisdiction to hear appeals from decisions of three-judge district courts issuing prisoner release orders, dismissing the appeal of Gov. Jerry Brown in the California prison case.

In the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Congress added prisoner release orders to the small set of cases that must be heard by a three-judge district court.  District court decisions are normally made by one judge sitting alone.  A statute going back to the 1948 revamp of the judiciary code gives the Supreme Court jurisdiction to hear appeals from orders of three-judge district courts granting or denying injunctions.  See 28 U.S.C. §1253. A parallel statute for appeals of injunctions to the court of appeals expressly includes appeals of orders "refusing to dissolve or modify injunctions."  The prisoners argued that this difference in wording excludes from the Supreme Court's jurisdiction an appeal from an order refusing to modify a preexisting injunction as distinguished from an order granting a new injunction. 

The Supreme Court apparently agreed with this argument.  Its order dismissing the appeal contains only a terse citation to §1253.  Institutionally, the court has an incentive to construe its direct appeal jurisdiction as narrowly as possible.  Unfortunately, in this case, the result will be either massive expenditures by an already strapped state or release of dangerous prisoners resulting in the rape, robbery, and murder of victims who could and should have been protected.

The Supreme Court's order is purely procedural and does not imply endorsement of three-judge panel's intransigence.  Gov. Brown can and should continue to fight this order with every available means.

CJLF's press release is here.

Update:  Paige St. John has this story in the LA Times.

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