Supreme Court hears California prison overcrowding case

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Tuesday in Schwarzenegger v. Plata [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report] on an order to reduce the California prison population [JURIST news archive]. In August 2009, a special panel of federal judges ordered [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] California to reduce its prison population by about 46,000 inmates, finding that the prisons are overcrowded. The panel approved [order, PDF; JURIST report] a revised prison reduction plan [text, PDF] in January, but action on the plan has been delayed, pending the government's Supreme Court appeal. Counsel for the state of California argued that the "extraordinary and unprecedented order ... requiring the release of between 36,000 and 45,000 inmates ... is extraordinarily premature." Counsel for the prisoners argued that the court must allow the lower court to provide a remedy for 20 years of overcrowding that has violated inmates' constitutional rights. The justices appeared split with the more conservative justices favoring California's position and the liberal justices favoring the prisoners'. Justice Anthony Kennedy may cast the deciding vote.

In CIGNA Corp. v. Amara [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on what "showing" is required to entitle participants of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) [materials] to recover benefits where there has been an alleged inconsistency between the explanation of benefits and the terms of the plan. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit applied a "likely harm" standard when affirming the district court's ruling. The circuit courts are deeply divided over this issue, with some requiring a showing of prejudice or reliance in order to recover benefits and others only requiring a discrepancy between the explanation of benefits and the terms of the plan. The Second Circuit has been the only circuit to apply the "likely harm" standard.

 

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