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Regulations must contain explicitly mandatory language, i. e., specific directives to the decisionmaker that if the regulations' substantive predicates are present, a particular outcome must follow, in order to create a liberty interest.
When certain visitors were excluded without hearing, respondent prison inmates sued petitioners, corrections department and officials, in a federal class action under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, claiming a U.S. Const. amend. XIV liberty interest in receiving certain visitors. The District Court found that the prison policies did not violate the decree, but, concluding that the inmates had a liberty interest in open visitation, issued a formal order directing that prison officials develop minimal due process procedures regarding decisions to exclude state prison visitors. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed and remanded, holding that the relevant language of the consent decree, the regulations, and the reformatory's visitation policies were sufficiently mandatory to create, for the inmates, a liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Petitioners were granted certiorari.
Did the prison regulations establish a liberty interest entitled to the protections of the Due Process Clause?
The Court reversed, holding that prison regulations did not establish a liberty interest entitled to the protections of the Due Process Clause. According to the Court, the denial of prison access to a particular visitor was well within the terms of confinement ordinarily contemplated by a prison sentence, and therefore was not independently protected by the Due Process Clause. The state procedure provided that visitors could be excluded when officials found reasonable grounds to believe that the visitors' presence constituted a clear and probable danger to an institution's security or interfered with its orderly operation. The regulations at issue lacked the requisite relevant mandatory language for due process to apply.