Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fourth Circuit holds that inmate's challenge to publications ban is moot

In INCUMAA v. OZMINT, Incumaa, was an inmate in a South Carolina Maximum Security Unit ("MSU"), and brought a 1983 action alleging that a prison policy barring MSU inmates from receiving publications via the mail violated his First Amendment rights. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Departmaent of Corrections, and Incumaa appealed. While the appeal was pending, Incumaa was released from MSU. Because the MSU publications ban no longer applies to Incumaa, and given that an inmate must "earn" assignment to the MSU through violent behavior or noncompliance with prison policies, the Fourth Circuit held that there is no indication that the MSU ban will ever apply to him again. Hence, the appeal was dismissed as moot.

Here is a nice summation from the opinion of Chief Judge Karen Williams:

Federal courts are not comprised of philosopher-kings or legislative aides, and the Constitution forbids us from pontificating about abstractions in the law or merely giving advice about the potential legal deficiencies of a law or policy when no ongoing controversy exists with respect to that law or policy. Given that Incumaa no longer is subjected to the MSU publications ban and there is every indication that Incumaa controls his own fate so far as the prospects for his return to the MSU are concerned, any opinion that we offered in this case about the MSU publications ban’s constitutionality would be advisory in the truest sense.

A beautiful exercise in judicial restraint and well said. We are fortunate to have her at the helm of the Fourth Circuit.

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