The liberal wing of the United States Supreme Court has done it again contradicted from the court’s refusal to reconsider the case of an inmate’s claim of serious ill-treatment.
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote a six-page dissent on the court’s denial of certiorari in the case Johnson vs. Prentice, In it, she described some of the horrific conditions the inmate was subjected to for three consecutive years. She was joined by liberal justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Michael Johnson, an inmate at the Pontiac Correctional Center near Chicago, was classified as “severely mentally ill” because of his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, major depression and other illnesses; He was placed in solitary confinement, a windowless, “permanently lit cell the size of a parking lot,” for over three years.
Jackson noted that Johnson’s cell was not only shockingly small, but also unsanitary, “often caked with human waste,” poorly ventilated and unbearably hot. Prison officials refused to provide Johnson with cleaning supplies, and “he was often forced to remove this mess with his bare hands,” she said. Additionally, Johnson was only allowed to leave his cell to shower once a week, and even then only for ten minutes.
“So for three years, Johnson had no opportunity to stretch his limbs or breathe fresh air,” the judge wrote.
Jackson also detailed some of the particularly horrific consequences Johnson suffered because of the conditions. His “mental state deteriorated rapidly,” he hallucinated, developed muscle and breathing difficulties, “he exfoliated his own flesh, urinated and defecated himself, and smeared feces all over his body and cells.” Johnson also became suicidal and even attempted , getting prison guards to beat him to death.
In addition to the miserable conditions, Johnson was also denied physical activity for nearly his entire time at the facility. Jackson described the deprivation as “unusually severe.”
Johnson filed a no-yard-access lawsuit against prison officials for violating his Eighth Amendment rights, and the district court refused to appoint an attorney. The gist of the claim was that the guards were deliberately indifferent to Johnson’s treatment. Ultimately, prison officials prevailed at the summary judgment phase after Johnson submitted only part of a handwritten appeal letter that ended with the statement, “I couldn’t finish.” The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit also ruled against Johnson.
Jackson said that in her dissenting opinion, the Seventh Circuit misapplied the legal analysis required for claims of intentional indifference and failed to even consider the cumulative impact that the man’s three-year sedentary deprivation had on his physical and mental health. The appeals court should have focused on the discrepancy between the different parties’ factual representations and resorted to summary judgment, Jackson said.
Unlike opinions on certiorari denials in other cases, Jackson refrained from harshly denouncing her fellow justices in her six-page opinion. Rather, she focused on detailing the disturbing facts of Johnson’s incarceration and what she called an “indisputable error of law” by the courts below in considering Johnson’s claim. Jackson said that in this case she would not only have granted certiorari, but also summarily reversed the action given the Seventh Circuit’s error.
Jackson reminded the justices that in 2015 they specifically recognized solitary confinement as a practice that is “exact.”[s] a terrible price” and that “for more than a century” “significant objections” to the use of solitary confinement as a form of incarceration have been raised before the Court.
You can read the full judgment Here.
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