Death by Court: Justices Find Nothing Cruel and Unusual About Prison Conditions that Expose Inmates to Covid-19

Death by Court: Justices Find Nothing Cruel and Unusual About Prison Conditions that Expose Inmates to Covid-19

Robert Baker

Imagine that you and your friends took a vacation to a five-star resort. Your phone vibrates with an alert that a foreign country has just launched a nuclear missile, and it is undoubtedly on its way to your location. The resort can assist you in departing before the missile arrives. Meanwhile, while cognizant of the danger, the resort’s staff disregards the severity of the crisis.

You and others are stunned when you hear the resort’s response to the many grievances that are circulating amongst the group. Despite knowledge of the danger and the resources to assist you and others, the resort ignores your plea and adds ‘you’ll survive, don’t worry.” However, one staff member disagrees and offers you and others a way out of this travesty. And when the group makes its way to the exit, the head of security for the resort halts you in your path. And to add to this preposterous response, you overhear a command on the head security guard’s radio stating, “this is the owner of the resort; those individuals are prohibited from leaving the resort grounds.” The resort’s security begins to detain you and the group and jokingly says “you were supposed to fill out a request, subject to the review of our board of directors who will be in next week.”

Yes, you read that correctly. [1] The world is experiencing an unprecedented time with an invisible threat to our society and its very existence. COVID-19 has taken the world by storm and has left older populations most susceptible. Still, this fact had no bearing on the Court’s analysis.[2]

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, along with viable evidence, the legal community witnessed the Supreme Court fail to uphold its duty. The Court’s impulse to affirm a Stay below came with deference to the prison system and a blatant disregard for the nature of the issues before the Court.  And thus, constituted cruel and unusual punishment; a violation of due process; and another example of discrimination toward a group of people whom the judicial system places in an inferior status. The Court failed to observe evidence that this case constituted an exception to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).[3] Moreover, the Court limited its discretion and ignored the standard to reverse a stay described in Western Airlines, Inc. v. Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters.[4]

This Note proceeds in the following manner. First, the Background section provides the facts, procedural history, each court’s legal analysis, and the relevant authority associated with . Then, Part I addresses the Court’s disregard for the Eighth Amendment and how its decision to affirm the Stay constituted cruel and unusual punishment because the case fell within an exception to the PLRA. Next, Part II explains how the Court ignored precedent by neglecting an exception to the PLRA as explained in Ross and negated to undo the stay in contradiction with provisions described in Western Airlines, Inc., thus yielding an ill instructive standard for lower courts to follow. Then, Part III highlights the Court’s implicit application of constitutional avoidance in affirming the stay and how it reflects a long-established bias toward inmates. Finally, Part IV stresses how the Court negated to correct a wrong and instead established precedent demonstrating “deliberate indifference” for its duty to society.

[1] Cf. Valentine v. Collier, 140 S.Ct. 1598 (2020).

[2] Cf. Id.

[3] Id; 42 U.S.C. § 1997 (1996).

[4] See W. Airlines, Inc. v. Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters, 480 U.S. 1301, 1304–06 (1987) (explaining that when the rights of the parties to a case are seriously and irreparably injured by a stay issued in a Court of Appeals, a Supreme Court Justice is within their authority to reverse the stay).


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