Muslim Advocates and Partners File Amicus Brief Urging U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Important Prisoners’ Rights Case

Muslim Advocates, with pro bono assistance from the Washington, D.C. law firm Wiley Rein LLP, filed an amicus brief on Friday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear arguments in Prison Legal News v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections, a case that could have major implications for the rights of incarcerated persons across the United States.

The brief was filed on behalf of numerous faith-based organizations in support of Prison Legal News (PLN)’s petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court in their case, Prison Legal News v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections.

Prison Legal News is an award-winning monthly publication focused on issues of interest to incarcerated persons, including criminal justice matters and prison and jail-related civil-litigation. In 2009, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) invoked vague and unsubstantiated security concerns and completely banned the distribution of Prison Legal News throughout all of their facilities. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit deferred to the FDOC’s determination and upheld the publication ban. Prison Legal News is now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case, and to overturn the Eleventh Circuit’s decision.   

The amicus brief, filed on behalf of eight faith-based organizations, highlights the harm that the Eleventh Circuit’s decision, if left in place, will have on the ability of incarcerated individuals who are religious minorities to practice their faith. Far too often, the ability of incarcerated persons to practice their faith and to access religious texts is unfairly and unjustifiably limited by prison regulations.

Krystal Swendsboe, attorney at Wiley Rein, explained that the goal of the amicus brief is to emphasize the danger of allowing courts to exercise unquestioning deference to prison regulations. “Incarcerated persons already experience limitations on their constitutional rights, and the Eleventh’s Circuit’s ruling on deference allows those limitations to expand, particularly for incarcerated individuals who are religious minorities and whose religious practices may be unfamiliar to prison officials,” said Ms. Swendsboe.

As highlighted in the brief, religious minorities are often disproportionately impacted due to bias or lack of understanding on the part of prison officials. If federal courts give unquestioning deference to prison officials, like the Eleventh Circuit did here, they jeopardize the ability of incarcerated individuals to exercise their constitutional rights to practice their religion.

According to Nimra Azmi, staff attorney for Muslim Advocates, “Prison gates are not barriers to the Constitution. The Eleventh Circuit’s decision endangers the constitutional rights of all incarcerated persons and sets a dangerous precedent for future rulings. We hope the Supreme Court takes up this case and prevents the erosion of prisoners’ First Amendment rights, including their right to exercise their religion freely.”