The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a significant decision regarding California’s prisons. The decision will likely result in release of over 40,000 prisoners. The case is Brown v. Plata (you can read it here: http://documents.latimes.com/brown-v-plata-decision/). Although the decision may have deeply troubling practical effects, namely the release of 40,000 criminals onto our streets, there are equally troubling theoretical effects arising from the words of the decision. Advocates of bigger government, and a single-payer healthcare system, will no doubt use Justice Kennedy’s words to justify further expansion of government programs under the theory that there is a constitutional requirement that we do so.
The court’s decision is rooted in the idea that these prisoners may not be receiving adequate medical care and mental health treatment. The reality is many of the prisoners who will be released are not being denied either. In his dissent, Justice Scalia argued that the prisoners likely to be released “will not be prisoners with medical conditions or severe mental illness and many will undoubtedly be fine physical specimens who have developed intimidating muscles pumping iron in the prison gym” (See Justice Scalia’s dissent at page 63).
The decision is authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, an appointee of Ronald Reagan. Justice Kennedy, who was Reagan’s third choice for the Supreme Court opening in 1987 after the Left derailed the nomination of Robert Bork, has gradually moved from the conservative wing of the court through the center and now appears firmly planted in the liberal wing. His decision was joined by Justices appointed by Presidents Clinton and Obama.
Justice Kennedy writes that a prison which “denies adequate medical care is inconsistent with the concept of human dignity and has no place in civilized society” (See Brown v. Plata at p.13). If we create a constitutional “right” to “adequate medical care” for prison inmates, is it that much of a stretch for liberals to assert that there is constitutional right to adequate medical care for those of us who have not committed crimes resulting in incarceration? Following Justice Kennedy’s assertion to its logical conclusion, if the state is required to pay for the medical care of prisoners, shouldn’t the state be required to pay for adequate medical care for the rest of us? Are there now going to be constitutional guarantees of an “adequate” education? “Adequate” housing? “Adequate” salaries from your employer? “Adequate” vacation time? Where does all of the constitutional adequacy end and who is going to pay for it?
While the Supreme Court’s will likely turn many criminals loose on the streets, the more far reaching effect may be to turn many Liberals loose in the halls of Congress, state legislatures, and ultimately the federal courts, demanding constitutionally mandated “adequacy” . I suppose we should count our blessings that the court didn’t mandate excellence, because who knows how much that would cost.