SCOTUS Denies Stay of COVID Jailbreak Order on Procedural Grounds

The U.S. Supreme Court today denied the federal government’s request to stay a “jailbreak” order of a district court in Ohio. The Court’s order notes:

[O]n May 19 [the day before the stay petition], the District Court issued a new order enforcing the preliminary injunction and imposing additional measures. The Government has not sought review of or a stay of the May 19 order in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Particularly in light of that procedural posture, the Court declines to stay the District Court’s April 22 preliminary injunction without prejudice to the Government seeking a new stay if circumstances warrant ….

The order in question directed the Bureau of Prisons to remove inmates from Elkton Federal Correctional Institution through home confinement, compassionate release, or transfer to another institution. Incredibly, the judge ordered BOP to “disregard the violence [sic] offense restriction for any inmate whose underlying conviction involved an offense that occurred more than 5 years ago and for which the only basis or [sic] denial is a prior violent offense.”

Yes, you read that right. A federal district judge ordered the Bureau of Prisons to ignore the fact that an inmate is a murderer or a rapist as long as it was more than five years ago.

The judge wrings his hands over the supposedly inadequate efforts of BOP to “get at-risk inmates out of harm’s way.” And what if that can only be done by placing innocent people in harm’s way — harm from a convicted murderer? The court brushes that off by saying, in essence, there is always a danger of crime and anyway inmates over 40 have lower recidivism rates. As I demonstrated in this post, that decline in recidivism is nowhere near as sharp as the jailbreak advocates would have us believe. Early release of violent inmates is virtually certain to cause the death, injury, and sexual violation of innocent people. The judge’s cavalier attitude about this reality is appalling.

DOJ had asked the Sixth Circuit to stay the district court’s original April 22 order and got shot down. Given the urgency of the matter, it is quite understandable why DOJ petitioned the Supreme Court directly after the May 19 order. True, as a general matter, one is required to check every box in the lower courts before going to SCOTUS. The high court seems overly picky to insist on that in these circumstances.

Hopefully the Sixth Circuit will act expeditiously on the government’s next stay request. Today’s order is “without prejudice,” so DOJ will be back if denied in the Sixth.

Justices Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch dissented and would have granted the stay. We need two more after the box has been duly checked.

Disregard news reports that the Supreme Court “upheld” the lower courts’ orders. Those stories are written by reporters who don’t understand the nuances of these matters. The nuances matter.