Beard v. Banks

PETITIONER: Jeffrey A. Beard, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
RESPONDENT: Ronald Banks, Individually and On Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated
LOCATION: Board of Immigration Appeals

DOCKET NO.: 04-1739
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 548 US 521 (2006)
GRANTED: Nov 14, 2005
ARGUED: Mar 27, 2006
DECIDED: Jun 28, 2006

Jere Krakoff - argued the cause for Respondent
Jonathan L. Marcus - argued the cause for Petitioner
Louis J. Rovelli - argued the cause for Petitioner

Facts of the case

Pennsylvania houses "incorrigible, recalcitrant" prisoners in the Long Term Segregation Unit (LTSU). Ronald Banks was one of about 40 prisoners in level 2 of the LTSU, which is reserved for the most dangerous, worst-behaved inmates. It is the policy of the LTSU to impose severe restrictions on the privileges of level 2 inmates. In particular, level 2 prisoners are the only ones denied newspapers, magazines, and photographs. Beard, the Secretary of the PA Department of Corrections, argued that this policy was necessary to promote rehabilitation and ensure prison safety. Banks brought a suit challenging the policy as a violation of the First Amendment. On the recommendation of a Magistrate Judge, the District Court ruled in favor of Beard. On appeal, however, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. The Circuit Court found that the prison's policy failed to meet the test laid down by the Supreme Court in Turner v. Safley. The Third Circuit held that the First Amendment rights of the prisoners took precedence, because the policy was unrelated to the goal of rehabilitation, and an ineffective method of increasing prison safety.


Does a prison policy that denies newspapers, magazines, and photographs to the worst-behaved prisoners violate the First Amendment?

Media for Beard v. Banks

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 27, 2006 in Beard v. Banks

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 28, 2006 in Beard v. Banks

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Breyer has the opinion in 04-1730, Beard versus Banks.

Stephen G. Breyer:

Pennsylvania’s prison system has a policy of denying newspapers, magazines and personal photographs to a small group of about 40 inmates, who share the fact that they have particular problems of behavior, they flunked out of special disciplinary programs or in various other ways they have shown themselves what they characterize as ”the worst of the worst” in the prison system.

Now, a former inmate of that program attacked the policy here as unconstitutional, and the State defended it, and at the trial both sides moved for summary judgment.

The District Court granted summary judgment to the State; the 3rd Circuit reversed; now, we are reversing the 3rd Circuit.

So we think summary judgment was right in this case for the State.

I am announcing the judgment of the Court here, and I’ll give the reasoning of four Justices; only eight of us are participating, Justice Alito is not.

The four Justices are myself, the Chief Justice, Justice Kennedy and Justice Souter.

In the view of the four of us, the case turns on three sets of legal requirements: first, the Constitution permits policies in prisons that would otherwise be forbidden, policies that affect free speech, confinement and so forth, provided that those policies are reasonable ones in the circumstances, and a case called Turner elaborates on that; second, when we are looking at these matters, we owe prison officials a degree of deference when they exercise their professional judgment, and a case called Overton elaborates on that; and, third, on a summary-judgment motion, such as we have here in this case, the defendant makes a motion, the prison makes a motion for a summary judgment, and they have to show they're entitled to it, and then it’s up to the Plaintiff, who has the burden of proof, to point to evidence that raises a triable issue of fact, and a case called *2:12 Cellitex elaborates on that.

So we have examined the record here, and we conclude that the trial court was right in granting summary judgment for the prison.

That's because the Secretary attached a deposition to his motion for summary judgment where a prison official explained the policy and explained its justification.

In particular, the official explained that these are the 40 most corrigible inmates in the system; previously, they had been deprived of almost every privilege it’s possible to deprive them of, all without success; and the right to read magazines and newspapers and have some personal photographs is almost all that's left.

They can escape the policy after 90 days by improving their behavior.

About 25% do that or have done that over the span of 2 years and so forth.

Now, in response to the Secretary’s showing, the Plaintiff did not offer to present evidence by experts or by laypeople or even to cross-examine the prison officials further.

Rather, the Plaintiff offered to present nothing.

He just said it was unlawful, provided reasons.

So given the deposition, the justification for the policy, the fact that it applies to a small group and is potentially temporary, in the absence of any contrary evidence, we conclude that summary judgment for the prison is warranted.

We are not saying the policy is immune from constitutional attack; we just say that the attack that we are seeing is the one contained in the record before us, and that attack could not succeed.

We reverse the 3rd Circuit’s determination.

Justice Thomas has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Justice Scalia joined; Justice Stevens filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Ginsburg joined; and finally, Justice Ginsberg also filed a dissenting opinion of her own; Justice Alito, as I said, took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.