Beard v. Banks Case Brief

Facts of the Case

Plaintiff prisoner brought a class action suit against defendant, claiming that a prison regulation violated the First Amendment. The regulation prohibited inmates housed in the most restrictive level (level 2) of Pennsylvania’s long term segregation unit (LTSU) from having access to newspapers, magazines, and personal photographs. Inmates were housed in level 2 of the LTSU based on assaults, possession of weapons or implements of escape, being a sexual predator, or other violent or disruptive behavior. Inmates who progressed to LTSU level 1 were given some access to newspapers and magazines. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants and the ruling was reversed on appeal. Defendants sought further review.


Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act applied the prohibition of employment discrimination to employers with fifteen or more employees. Did this limit federal courts’ subject matter jurisdiction, or did it only raise an issue going to the merits of a Title VII claim?


“Ruling yes on the first question, the Court did not need to reach the second question. In a 5-to-4 decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court found that the rule announced in Mills – that sentencing schemes could not prevent jurors from considering mitigating evidence that had not been accepted unanimously when deciding whether to apply the death penalty – was a new rule, because it was not compelled by previous Court decisions. As a new rule, it could only be applied retroactively if it was a “watershed rule[] of criminal procedure implicating the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding.” Finding that it was not a watershed rule, the Court found that it could not be applied retroactively and that Beards’ conviction was therefore constitutional.”

Case Information

Citation: 542 US 406 (2004)
Granted: Sep 30, 2003
Argued: Feb 24, 2004
Decided: Jun 24, 2004
Case Brief: 2004