Is there nothing the White House will not attempt? Is there anything too vile, too cruel, or too vicious for this president to pursue? Tuesday, the Supreme Court balked at the Donald Trump people’s demand that prisoners most likely to die from the coronavirus had to stay put. He was giving them a death sentence.
The Supreme Court ruled that the prison officials must move 800 medically vulnerable or older prisoners out of a prison already plagued with nine deaths due to the coronavirus. Any situations where people are in close proximity are Petri dishes waiting to explode. That includes prisons, nursing or assisted living homes, luxury cruise ships, schools, and maybe even the military.
The White House tried to block a judge’s ruling that federal prison officials must protect their vulnerable inmates at the Elkton Federal Correction Institution. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch would have granted the stay.
Last month four prisoners filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that the prison was a violation of their Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment.” Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argued that the prisoners could not have taken even the most basic precautions against COVID-19.
The Supreme Court brief read, according to The New York Times:
‘They are housed, cheek by jowl, in dormitory-style rooms of approximately 150 persons each,” the brief said. “Though well aware that social distancing is an indispensable means of protecting themselves, they are powerless to use it. The result has been a severe Covid-19 outbreak lasting months, causing the deaths — so far — of at least nine people and infecting hundreds more among prisoners and staff.’
The low-security prison holds 2,400 inmates, and over a third of them are 65-year-old or older or have ailments that would make them vulnerable to the virus. The inmates were asking for “compassionate release, home confinement, parole or transfer to another facility.” Ever since the 1980s, a large number of prisons have been privatized. It became a 3.5 billion-dollar industry, according to The Sentencing Project.
Federal District Court in Cleveland Judge James Gwin wrote this about the plaintiffs on April 22:
‘It bears repeating [plaintiffs] are not asking the court to dump inmates out into the streets. No one’s interest would be served in doing so. The court is confident that the transfer of prisoners from Elkton to other means of confinement could accomplish the goal of protecting Elkton’s vulnerable population while also protecting public safety.’
The federal prison has had only limited testing, according to Judge Gwin:
‘[S]o far the data demonstrates that almost one in four inmates at Elkton has been infected — an unacceptable number.’
Solicitor General Noel Francisco said:
‘Judge Gwin’s first order threatened public safety and amounted to unwarranted judicial interference with prison administration.’
The ACLU referred to point in Judge Gwin’s May 19 order that the Supreme Court considered relevant. The White House did not try to put a stay on Gwin’s May 19 order. The SCOTUS majority wrote:
‘Particularly in light of that procedural posture. The court declines to stay the district court’s April 22 preliminary injunction without prejudice to the government seeking a new stay if circumstances warrant.’
The ACLU’s brief noted that the prison crisis had not received the attention it needed. Its brief read:
‘The government has demonstrated for months that it will not take the necessary action at Elkton to save the lives of its charges. As of today, despite the lack of mass testing, there are 128 confirmed and currently active cases of Covid-19 among Elkton prisoners, plus eight more among staff. The true number is likely far higher. Yet not a single prisoner, no matter how vulnerable, has been transferred out.’
The brief continued:
‘People are continuing to die. When this action was filed in mid-April, three Elkton prisoners had died. Three more died within the week. The toll reached nine on May 8. The government’s complaint of administrative inconvenience cannot outweigh the risk of severe illness and death to petitioners in prison.’
Francisco wrote that he had been trying to reduce the levels of infection. However, he believed that the prisoners wanted too much:
“Respondent’s position, if correct would impose a constitutional six-feet-at-all-times rule that would require the release of inmates from low-security facilities even where prison officials have taken extensive efforts to mitigate the risk of spread, and even while most law-abiding citizens in today’s society cannot guarantee themselves such protections at all times.’
Featured image is a screenshot via YouTube.
The Mueller Report Adventures: In Bite-Sizes on this Facebook page. These quick, two-minute reads interpret the report in normal English for busy people. Mueller Bite-Sizes uncovers what is essentially a compelling spy mystery. Interestingly enough, Mueller Bite-Sizes can be read in any order.