American Elephants

Thousands of Prisoners to be Released in California. by The Elephant's Child

Yesterday the United States Supreme Court ordered the State of California to release 46,000 convicted criminals.  These are prisoners whom a fair and impartial judicial system has decided  are either dangerous to society or deserve to be punished.  Justice Antonin Scalia, in a strong dissent called it “perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our Nation’s history.

In Brown v. Plata, a 5-4 Court majority ruled that overcrowding in California prisons had led to inadequate health-care services and therefore violated the Eighth Amendment rights of prisoners, upholding a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  The class of inmates who sued the state alleged no specific harms, merely that their conditions of incarceration were “systemic” and had the potential to be unconstitutional.

Justice Scalia, who was joined by Justice Thomas, wrote that the Justices are now decreeing how the political branches of government must be run, disregarding the core Article III checks on judicial authority.  The courts, he said, are neither qualified nor empowered to be policy makers and “long-term administrators of complex social institutions” such as schools or prisons.  Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts filed a dissent on technical grounds.

This is a big separation-of-powers violation. The Court-mandated population limits are sure to result in more crime among the lucky parolees, and what are they to do with parole violators?  The court’s liberal majority granted California “considerable latitude to find mechanisms and make plans” for the required reductions. California, already broke, is going to find it interesting to figure out how to deal with 46,000 prisoners, and still protect the public.

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