This morning the Supreme Court issued orders from the justices’ private conference last week. The justices did not add any new cases to their argument calendar for next term. Perhaps most significantly, they did not act at all on the 10 gun rights cases that they had considered for a second time at last week’s conference.
The gun rights cases have all been on hold, some for over a year, presumably until the court issued its decision in the challenge to New York City’s ban on the transport of handguns outside the city. The justices dismissed that case as moot at the end of April, and a few hours later the court had distributed the 10 petitions for consideration at the justices’ May 1 conference. The justices normally only grant review after they have considered a petition at two consecutive conferences, so it was no surprise that they did not act on the petitions when they issued orders on May 4. There’s no way to know whether the justices are still trying to choose among the petitions, have not yet decided what to do or have some other reason for waiting to act on the petitions.
The justices denied review in Wexford Health v. Garrett, involving whether a prisoner who does not use all the administrative remedies available to him before filing a lawsuit can “cure” that failure by filing an amended complaint after he is released from prison. The question came to the court in the case of Kareem Garrett, who was a prisoner in the Pennsylvania correctional system when he filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against prison officials and medical staff in 2014. Garrett alleged, among other things, that the officials and staff ignored his serious medical needs – by ending his use of a walker, for example, and stopping his psychiatric medications. The defendants in the case argued that the Prison Litigation Reform Act required the court to dismiss the claims that Garrett had not first raised administratively, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit disagreed. It ruled that although Garrett had been required to exhaust his administrative remedies, his May 2015 release from prison cured the problem.
Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the denial of review. Thomas observed that the courts of appeals are divided on the question presented by Wexford Health’s petition and that the resolution of that question “will have significant ramifications for not only prisons and prison officials but also federal courts” because of the large number of lawsuits filed by prisoners challenging prison conditions. Until the question is resolved, Thomas emphasized, prisoners in different parts of the country will face different and unequal requirements under the PLRA.
The justices also turned down a trio of petitions (here, here and here) asking them to review rulings by lower courts finding that government officials were entitled to qualified immunity from lawsuits. In two of the cases, “friend of the court” briefs supporting the requests for review had urged the justices not only to grant review, but also to rethink the doctrine of qualified immunity more broadly, but the justices denied the petitions without comment.
The justices’ next conference is scheduled for Thursday, May 21. We expect orders from that conference on Tuesday, May 26, at 9:30 a.m. EDT.
This post is also published on SCOTUSblog.