SCOTUS GVRs Knight v. Thompson — A Native Prisoner Matter — in Light of Holt v. Hobbs

Here is the order.

BTW, a GVR stands for “grant vacate remand.” It usually means, as I believe it does here, that the Supreme Court has decided a matter that will affect the disposition of another matter pending before the Court at the time. Here, the Court granted cert to review Holt v. Hobbs. and decided that matter last week. Also pending was a cert petition in Knight v. Thompson involving a challenge by a Native prisoner to his warden’s order to cut his hair. the Court held the Native petition while it decided the other petition, which involved a Muslim man’s challenge to his warden’s order to shave his beard.

Now the Knight case will return to the Eleventh Circuit where the court will review the case in light of the decision in Holt.

NARF: “The impact of Holt v. Hobbs on Native American inmates”

Here. An excerpt:

Holt holds that this approach is wrong.  Much like Knight, the Arkansas prison officials in Holtfeared safety and security issues and ignored the successful measures taken by the vast majority of prison systems to safely accommodate religious beards.  The Holt opinion makes clear that these successful, widespread accommodations are indeed relevant and indicate that Arkansas was not utilizing the “least restrictive means.”  Additionally, the Supreme Court emphasized that judges cannot simply defer to the opinions of prison officials as a means of practicing “unquestioning acceptance,” thereby abdicating judicial responsibility to apply RLUIPA’s very rigorous standard.  Courts must demand persuasive proof that denial of an exemption to a specific person is the least restrictive means of furthering compelling penological interests.  Like the prison officials in Holt, the officials in Knight failed to meet this standard, and the court applied an unquestioning acceptance of their opinions.  It is an error that has plagued the cases of several Native American inmates through several decades of litigation, and we believe that Holt provides the clarity necessary to remedy this persistent issue.

The Holt opinion changes a fundamental aspect of how certain prison systems deal with Native Americans and their religious practices.  For those Natives who reside in the darkest corners of U.S. penal systems, it is no longer the rule that they cannot engage in their traditional religious practices merely because their jailors say so.  Courts will demand more, just as Congress intended when it enacted RLUIPA.

SCOTUS Upholds Prisoner Religious Freedom Claim in Holt v. Hobbs

Here is the opinion.
Here is the NYTs article describing the opinion.

NCAI and Huy filed briefs in this matter, here.

Of note, perhaps, Justice Sotomayor authored a separate concurring opinion quoting from two lower court decisions involving Indian or Indian-related claims, Yellowbear and Wilgus.

Supreme Court Grants RLUIPA Petition

The Supreme Court granted Holt v. Hobbs, a (handwritten) prisoner petition with the following issues:

(1) Whether the Arkansas Department of Corrections’ no beard growing policy violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) or the First Amendment; and (2) whether a ½ inch beard would satisfy the security goals sought by the policy.

SCOTUSblog page here.

Order here.