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Wednesday round-up

For a second day, media outlets are flush with analysis of Monday’s decision in Brown v. Plata, in which the Court affirmed a three-judge district court’s order to reduce overcrowding in California’s prisons. (This round-up begins with news articles, then moves to opinion pieces in the following paragraph.) Reflecting on Plata in light of recent Eighth Amendment rulings, the Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin observes that Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion “sharpened his divide with conservative colleagues over what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.” A report in the Los Angeles Times highlights the challenge of the overcrowding problem, suggesting that the court order “could be undone by [California’s] tough sentencing laws, persistent recidivism and recurring budget crises.” The Associated Press (via NPR) and Michael Doyle of McClatchy Newspapers (via the Miami Herald) examine how the ruling could affect states other than California, and a Wall Street Journal report probes its impact on the state budget debate in California. Focusing on the prison conditions at issue in the case, the New York Times’s Jennifer Medina reports from a prison in Chino, California. And finally, in response to Justice Scalia’s assertion (in dissent) that many released prisoners “will undoubtedly be fine physical specimens who have developed intimidating muscles pumping iron in the prison gym,” Slate’s Brian Palmer investigates whether “people really [do] get super-buff in the slammer?” His answer: “Not anymore.”


On the opinion front, commentators weigh in to praise and criticize the Plata decision. On the generally supportive side—for diverse reasons—are Steve Lopez and Tim Rutten (both in the Los Angeles Times), Sentencing Law and Policy’s Doug Berman, the Heartland Institute’s Eli Lehrer (via the National Review Online’s The Corner blog), and the editorial boards of the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor. Critics of the decision include Representative Dan Lungren (R-CA) (via The Hill’s Floor Action blog), as well as prison reform activist Michael Santos (via the Huffington Post). Some opinion articles resist such categorization. In the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf recommends an approach for releasing prisoners: “I am hoping that if they’re released, these 30,000 lucky prisoners face one unusual obstacle to recidivism: a sophisticated ankle bracelet that doesn’t come off until their original term would’ve ended.” And at the Rolling Stone’s Politics Daily blog, Tim Dickinson connects the decision to the challenges to the constitutionality of the Administration’s health-care legislation; he argues that the Court’s decision in Plata should “boost the spirits of defenders of Obamacare.” (Thanks to Doug Berman of Sentencing Law and Policy for the link.)


The other Court-related story making headlines is Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal’s “confession” that the Solicitor General’s Office made mistakes in defending Japanese internment before the Supreme Court during World War II. (Katyal titled his stance a “confession of error” on the Department of Justice blog.) In a speech yesterday at a Justice Department event honoring Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Katyal said that former Solicitor General Charles Fahy deliberately concealed from the Court a military report concluding that Japanese-Americans were not a serious threat. In the Los Angeles Times, David Savage deems Katyal’s admission “extraordinary” for taking “to task one of his predecessors for hiding evidence and deceiving the Supreme Court in two of the major cases in its history.” The Blog of LegalTimes, Constitutional Law Prof Blog, the Associated Press (via the Washington Post), and the ABA Journal have further coverage of Katyal’s speech.




  • The New York Times editorial board criticizes last week’s decision in Kentucky v. King, arguing that the ruling “undermines the rule of law by shifting the power to approve a forced entry from a magistrate to the police” and “empowers the police to decide whether circumstances allow them to kick in the door.”


  • The Los Angeles Times editorial board urges Congress to “rectify” the “unjustifiable anomaly” that Supreme Court Justices are exempt from the Code of Conduct for United States Judges.


  • The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire blog observes that “[t]he Supreme Court likes to leave its biggest cases to the end of its term to decide, and this year is proving no different.”


Recommended Citation: Adam Chandler, Wednesday round-up, SCOTUSblog (May. 25, 2011, 9:35 AM),