Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Tomorrow: SCOTUS to Hear Oral Argument in California Prison Overcrowding Case

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Tomorrow’s the day when the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Schwarzenegger v. Plata, the class-action lawsuit over California’s prison overcrowding crisis. The Wall Street Journal has an overview here, and the Los Angeles Times explains why this case will have ramifications beyond the Golden State:

Lawyers for 18 other states, including Illinois, Pennsylvania and Virginia, joined in support of California’s appeal, saying they feared a ruling upholding the prison release order could trigger similar moves across the nation. “Real world experience” suggests that releasing a large number of inmates would “inevitably place innocent citizens at much greater risk,” they said. …

Defenders of the judges’ order cite [Gov. Arnold] Schwarzenegger’s own words in 2006 declaring that California faced an overcrowding emergency in its prisons. They also say the state is exaggerating the possible effect of the order. California locks up many prisoners for repeat petty crimes or for technical parole violations, even though they are not considered dangerous or violent.

“California has people in prison who wouldn’t be in prison in any other state,” said former George W. Bush administration Solicitor Gen. Paul D. Clement, who represents one group of state prisoners. His brief cites comments from a former Texas prison director who said he was surprised and disturbed by the overcrowding in California’s prisons.

You can find all the documents you need to get briefed on the case here via SCOTUSblog, and at my earlier posts here (rounding up background info) and here (noting a criminologists’ amicus brief in support of the prisoners). For those of us not in D.C., I’ll try to round up links to oral argument coverage later this week. I’m especially curious to see what new justices Sotomayor and Kagan might say in one of the most significant prisoners’ rights cases to come across the docket since they’ve joined the court.

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  1. […] Tomorrow's the day when the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in Schwarzenegger v. Plata, the class-action lawsuit over California's prison overcrowding crisis. The Wall Street Journal has an overview here, and the Los Angeles Times explains why this case will have ramifications beyond the Golden State: Lawyers for 18 other states, including Illinois, Pennsylvania and Virginia, joined in support of California's appeal, saying they … Read More […]


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