Posted on Mon Nov 16th 2020 at 5:25 pm by Amy Howe
The Supreme Court on Monday afternoon denied a motion by two high-risk inmates at high risk of complications from COVID-19 to reinstate a federal district court order requiring Texas prison officials to take basic security precautions to fight the virus. Judge Sonia Sotomayor contradicted this decision and wrote an eleven-page statement – together with Judge Elena Kagan – in which she feared that Monday’s order in a prison in which 20 inmates have already died “will lead to further, unnecessary suffering” the virus.
The application was made by Laddy Valentine and Richard King, inmates of the Wallace Pack Unit, a geriatric prison in southeast Texas. Valentine is 69 years old, King is 73 years old, and both have chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, which put them at higher risk of serious illness and death from the coronavirus. They went before a federal court earlier this year where they argued that the failure to protect them from the coronavirus violated the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
After an 18-day trial in July, U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison agreed to Valentine and King. Ellison entered an order in September requiring prison officials to take basic public health precautions to deal with the virus, such as: B. Regular cleaning, wearing masks, weekly testing, quarantining inmates awaiting test results, and contact tracing.
Prison officials appealed to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which put Ellison’s order on hold until he could hear the case and decide. The appeals court concluded that prison officials would likely prevail – an important criterion for temporary relief – as inmates should have used the prison’s internal complaints procedure before going to court.
Valentine and King came to the Supreme Court last month asking the judges to restore Ellison’s order while the prison officials’ appeal continues. They told the judges that the 5th Circle order was “dangerous” and “ignored the reality that” the prison’s internal complaint process was “a simple dead end” that could not protect inmates from the virus.
In a brief one-sentence decision on Monday, the court denied Valentine and King’s request. In her contradiction, Sotomayor emphasized that the pack unit inmates “are among the most vulnerable in the country”. Despite this risk, she continued, “Inmates’ COVID-related complaints were treated no differently from other complaints” and therefore offered “no realistic prospect of relief.” Furthermore, while the number of COVID-19 cases in prison has decreased, Sotomayor added “the threat of a second outbreak” continues “; if the virus returns, it may” overtake a prison in a few weeks, “and it will become some It takes weeks for the appellate court to hear – much less comment – on the inmates, in contrast, according to Sotomayor, Ellison’s order “only requires basic safety measures using reasonable, flexible terms.”
Sotomayor concluded by stating that Valentine and King could return to the Supreme Court “if it becomes clear that the risks they face due to the behavior of” prison officials “are even more serious than they already appear.” But because she “wouldn’t make her wait until it might be too late,” she concluded, she disagreed.
Monday’s order marked the second time this year that the Supreme Court has refused to provide emergency aid to inmates in the Pack Unit. Earlier this spring, prior to the 18-day trial, Ellison issued a preliminary order urging prison officials to take better COVID-19 security measures. The 5th Circuit blocked this order from going into effect, and on May 14th the Supreme Court declined the reinstatement.
This post was originally published on Howe on the Court.
Amy Howe, court denies requests from Texas inmates to restore coronavirus security measures pending appeal.
SCOTUSblog (November 16, 2020, 5:25 pm), https://www.scotusblog.com/2020/11/court-denies-plea-from-texas-inmates-to-restore-coronavirus-safety-measures-pending – Complaint/