The U.S. Supreme Court today turned down a request by Gov. Jerry Brown for a stay of a lower court order requiring a reduction of the state’s prison population by 9,600 inmates by the end of the year.
Brown’s request was denied by a 6-3 vote of the court.
The six justices in the majority did not give their reasoning, but two of the dissenters, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, said in a brief opinion that they believed a stay was warranted because there has been substantial progress in improving prison conditions.
Brown had asked for the stay while his administration appeals the order by a three-judge panel requiring the reduction by Dec. 31.
That appeal is still pending before the high court.
California Corrections and Rehabilitation Department Secretary Jeffrey Beard said, “While California’s request for a stay was denied today, the state will pursue its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court so that the merits of the case can be considered without delay.”
The order requiring the population decrease in the state’s 33 adult prisons was originally issued in 2009 and then reaffirmed in two more decisions this spring by a panel of two federal trial judges and one appeals court judge.
The judges acted on two long-running civil rights lawsuits in which prisoners claimed their health care was unconstitutionally substandard.
In 2011, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote upheld the panel’s 2009 decision, which had concluded that severe overcrowding was the primary cause of “woefully inadequate” care and ordered the population reduced to 137 percent of the prisons’ planned capacity.
In April and June, the lower court panel issued rulings rejecting the Brown administration’s request for modification of the original requirement. Those rulings now being appealed.
Brown has argued in the appeals that conditions have improved and the release of inmates could endanger public safety.
Lawyers for the prisoners contended in a brief to the high court that there is no justification for modifying the earlier orders, and contended that granting a stay would “reward openly defiant and contumacious conduct” by the Brown administration.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News