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Law School Case Brief

Thornburgh v. Abbott - 490 U.S. 401, 109 S. Ct. 1874 (1989)

Rule:

Regulations affecting the sending of a "publication" to a prisoner must be analyzed under the Turner reasonableness standard. Such regulations are valid if they are reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. The Martinez analysis is limited to regulations concerning outgoing correspondence. Several factors channel the Turner reasonableness inquiry. First, the court must determine whether the governmental objective underlying the regulations at issue is legitimate and neutral, and whether the regulations are rationally related to that objective. As to neutrality, it is important to inquire whether prison regulations restricting inmates' First Amendment rights operate in a neutral fashion, without regard to the content of the expression. Second, the court should consider the presence or absence of alternative means of exercising the right in question. Third, the court should consider the impact that accommodation of the asserted constitutional right will have on others, guards and inmates, in the prison. 

Facts:

Federal Bureau of Prisons regulations generally permit prisoners to receive publications from the "outside," but authorize wardens, pursuant to specified criteria, to reject an incoming publication if it is found "to be detrimental to the security, good order, or discipline of the institution or if it might facilitate criminal activity." Wardens may not reject a publication "solely because its content is religious, philosophical, political, social[,] sexual, or . . . unpopular or repugnant," or establish an excluded list of publications, but must review each issue of a subscription separately. Respondents, a class of inmates and certain publishers, filed suit in the District Court, claiming that the regulations, both on their face and as applied to 46 specifically excluded publications, violated their First Amendment rights under the standard set forth in Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396. The District Court refrained from adopting the Martinez standard in favor of an approach more deferential to the judgment of prison authorities, and upheld the regulations without addressing the propriety of the 46 exclusions. The The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, using the Martinez standard, reversed the judgment upholding the regulations, and remanded the case for an individualized determination on the constitutionality of the 46 exclusions. Petitioner prison officials sought certiorari.

Issue:

Should the regulations affecting the sending of a "publication" to a prisoner be analyzed using the Martinez standard?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court held that regulations affecting the sending of a publication to a prisoner must be analyzed under the Turner reasonableness standard. Under this standard, such regulations are valid if they are reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. The Court further held that the Martinez analysis was limited to regulations concerning outgoing correspondence. Applying the Turner reasonableness standard to the regulations at issue, the Court concluded that they were facially valid. In particular, the governmental objective of protecting prison security was legitimate and neutral and the regulations were rationally related to that objective. Moreover, the Court agreed with the district court that the regulations on their face were not an "exaggerated response" to the problem at hand and that no obvious, easy alternative had been established.

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