In a 5-4 decision Monday in Brown v. Plata, the Supreme Court upheld an order that calls for California to release up to 46,000 inmates due to an overcrowded penal system.
Before my visit to the Supreme Court, I didn’t think I would comprehend the “law lingo.” Surprisingly, the information wasn’t as complex as I conceived, but the opinions were far from brief.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy delivered the opinion, which Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined.
“This cases arises from serious constitutional violations in California’s prison system,” Kennedy said.
In the hard copy of the decision were photos from Mulse Creek State Prison, California Institution for Men and Salinas Valley State Prison in California that give viewers an idea of how serious the overcrowding issue is.
Justice Antonin Scalia gave a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Clarence Thomas joined, calling the decision “the most radical injunction issued by a court in our Nation’s history.”
“The court disregarded the constituational limitations of a federal judge to uphold the absurd,” Scalia said
I thought it was quite interesting that, even in the midst of a serious decision, Kennedy drew a laugh from spectators by making a remark about the opinion not being brief at all – the majority opinion runs 52 pages. I’m pleased to know that our justices have a sense of humor.
It might not have been one of the most monumental decisions, but it was amazing to witness a case that will forever be apart of constitutional law doctrine.
After hearing the opinions of the court, we took a tour of the Supreme Court building, which was finished in 1935 under the guidance of Chief Justice William H. Taft. Neither Taft nor archtiect Cass Gilbert lived to see it completed. The five-story corinthian style structure includes two self-supporting oval staircases, a library with more than 500,000 volumes and a “Great Hall” that features the scuptures of former chief justices. A special exhibit examines the life of former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who retired in 2005.
Getting your case heard by this court of nine is extremly competitive. Of the 8,148 cases the court received this year, it heard only 86 and will issue the rest of the decisions by the end of June.
I must say my visit to the Supreme Court was quite an eye opening experience. I left with a newfound respect and understanding of the very intricate judicial system.