Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hrdlicka v. Reniff, 656 F.3d 942 (9th Cir. 2011)

No court interferes more with administration of prisons than the 9th Circuit. The Supreme Court has repeatedly reversed 9th Circuit expansion of prison inmates substantive rights beyond their scope almost as much as its reversals of habeas corpus.

A publisher sought an order directing the Sheriff of Butte County to allow county jail prisoners access to a publication discussing  prison conditions and potential remedies for prisoners.  The majority opinion upholds the right of county jail prisoners to receive unsolicited (junk) mail  from a private citizen. The grounds: First Amendment rights.

Here is the dissent: "The court today holds that the First Amendment mandates that county jails distribute unsolicited junk mail to their inmates, or face a burdensome lawsuit from the junk mail publisher; Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987).  Given that Turner decided only the standard of review to apply when a prison regulation impinges upon inmates' First Amendment rights, the majority's interpretation is an extraordinary leap since all agree that no inmate rights are at stake in this case. Regrettably, the majority's opinion is completely untethered from Supreme Court precedent and in considerable tension with our own case law. It further complicates the already 'inordinately difficult undertaking' of prison administration."

"Challenges to jail or prison regulations limiting outside contact with prisoners undoubtedly involve the balancing of constitutional imperatives. The majority focuses almost entirely upon those implicated by the First Amendment. But also among them is that running a jail 'requires expertise, planning, and the commitment of resources, all of which are peculiarly within the province of the legislative and executive branches of government.' Therefore the separation of powers 'counsel[s] a policy of judicial restraint,” particularly '[w]here a state penal system is involved.”

And finally: "the majority ignores the separation of powers and unnecessarily injects the federal courts into a matter peculiarly within the province of the legislative and executive branches of government (citing Turner).'"

When the delegates from thirteen states met in Philadelphia, they specifically rejected construction of a federal government supervising the states.  The first Ten Amendments to the Constitution all limited power conferred on the federal government. In the 9th Circuit, this mandate is repeatedly ignored although the Supreme Court incorporated some of the Amendments applicable to states. The 9th Circuit manages a broad number of state activities.  Aside from busing, the court supervises county jails, state prisons, schools, and a variety of other categories, imposing its policy decisions indifferent to the rationale of the Constitution.  Hrdlicka represents another duty imposed on county jails to receive, distribute and collect publication of unsolicited junk mail under the 9thCircuit interpretation the First Amendment.

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