Holt v. Hobbs - Oral Argument - October 07, 2014

Holt v. Hobbs

Media for Holt v. Hobbs

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 20, 2015 in Holt v. Hobbs

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 07, 2014 in Holt v. Hobbs

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

We'll hear argument first this morning in Case 13-6827, Holt versus Hobbs.

Mr. Laycock.

Douglas Laycock:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

40 other prison systems permit beards without a length limit, yet Arkansas prohibits even half an inch.

And in their brief, they reject every means that courts have devised to evaluate their testimony.

So what they really seek is absolute deference to anything they say just because they say it.

And that would be to repeal this statute de facto.

There may be deference to prison officials, but there must be concrete limits to that deference.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

If this prisoner wanted to have a full beard, would RLUIPA require that the prison administration allow him to do that?

Douglas Laycock:

Well, some courts have said yes.

There's very little in this record about full beards and whether they're safe or whether they're dangerous, but the 40 States that permit them suggest that the State would have a difficult burden of proof.

But that question is not presented here.

Antonin Scalia:

Mr. Laycock, the problem I have with -- with your client's claim of -- of religious requirement is the religious requirement is to grow a full beard, isn't it?

Now, let's assume in the religion that requires polygamy.

I mean, could -- could I say to the prison, well, you know, okay, I won't have three wives; just let me have two wives.

I mean, you're still violating your religion, it seems to me, if he allows his beard to be clipped to one -- one inch, isn't he?

Douglas Laycock:

Well, the religious teaching is a full beard.

He testified that religiously half an inch is better than nothing, and he explained that in terms of Hadith that he referenced.

He's in a very difficult situation.

I don't think he should be penalized for being reasonable here.

He offered an extremely conservative compromise to the prison--

Antonin Scalia:

Well, religious beliefs aren't reasonable.

I mean, religious beliefs are categorical.

You know, it's God tells you.

It's not a matter of being reasonable.

God be reasonable?

He's supposed to have a full beard.

Douglas Laycock:

--He's -- he's supposed to have a full beard, but a partial beard is better than none.

And that's not just in secular terms.

That's also in religious terms, which he explained on the record.