The U.S. Supreme Court added just one case to its docket yesterday: Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, an appeal by former Attorney General John Ashcroft, will determine whether Ashcroft is immune from a civil suit by a U.S. citizen who claims he was illegally detained as a terrorist.
As is often the case when the Court grants only one cert. petition, more headlines were made over what the Court did not do yesterday.
For example, the Court declined to take up Pitre v. Cain, the appeal of a prisoner who claimed he was punished with hard labor in 100-degree heat for refusing to take his HIV medication. A district court rejected the prisoner’s Eighth Amendment claim, reasoning that he had brought the matter on himself for not taking the drugs.
But Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a written dissent, opposed the denial of cert., explaining why she believes the 5th Circuit’s ruling affirming the dismissal of the prisoner’s complaint was wrong.
“The Fifth Circuit’s error in requiring Pitre to produce ‘evidence’ in support of his allegations before a responsive pleading was filed, in and of itself, is sufficient reason to reverse the judgment below,” Sotomayor wrote, citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly.
“More fundamentally, however, in focusing on Pitre’s own contribution to his health problems, the courts appear to have misunderstood the nature of Pitre’s Eighth Amendment claim,” Sotomayor wrote. “His pro se complaint and attachments…allege not that respondents denied him medical care but that they punished him for refusing to take medication, or attempted to coerce him to take medication, by subjecting him to hard labor that they knew exceeded his medical limitations.”
She said the prisoner’s complaint was “more than sufficient to state a claim of deliberate indifference” under the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment prohibition.
The Court also, without comment, took a pass on Simmons v. Galvin, a challenge brought by a Massachusetts prisoner claiming the commonwealth’s law prohibiting prisoners from voting violated the Voting Rights Act because a disproportionate number of inmates are black or Hispanic.
The Court also declined to take up a request by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to unseal filings in the case In Re Grand Jury Proceedings. That case involves an investigation of a doctor accused of unlawfully prescribing pain medication.
A petition by a Texas death row inmate was also rejected by the Court yesterday. The inmate’s attorney argued in Hall v. Thaler that the man should not be executed because he is mentally impaired.