The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 47.0°F | A Few Clouds
Article Tools

California Officials Seek to Regain Control of Prison Health Care

The state of California made its case Monday to regain control of health care in its prisons, telling a federal judge that “dramatic improvements” have occurred since the judge blamed the health system for killing one inmate per week and assigned an overseer to make changes.

California prison officials “can take back the reins, and they should take back the reins,” Paul Mello, a lawyer for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said at a hearing in San Francisco.

He acknowledged that the improvements followed U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson’s appointment of a receiver in 2006 to manage the prison health system. Henderson had ruled that the state was violating the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment and had shown itself incapable of fixing the problems on its own.

But Mello argued that the appointment, and receiver Clark Kelso’s $8 billion plan to build and refurbish prison health centers, were unnecessary and illegal.

California is “putting its money where its mouth is,” Mello said, spending $14,000 per inmate on health care each year — more than any other state — and more than $2 billion overall. He also said a 1996 federal law, chiefly intended to limit inmates’ lawsuits, prohibited judges from taking control of state prison systems or ordering prison construction.

Kelso’s lawyer, James Brosnahan, countered that the 1996 law did not even mention receivers or the power that federal judges hold to appoint temporary managers when government programs violate constitutional standards.

High Court’s Second-Amendment Ruling Has Had Little Impact

About nine months ago, the Supreme Court breathed new life into the Second Amendment, ruling for the first time that it protects an individual right to own guns. Since then, lower federal courts have decided more than 80 cases interpreting the decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, and it is now possible to make a preliminary assessment of its impact.

So far, Heller is firing blanks.

The courts have upheld federal laws banning gun ownership by people convicted of felonies and some misdemeanors, by illegal immigrants and by drug addicts. They have upheld laws banning machine guns and banning sawed-off shotguns. They have also upheld laws making it illegal to carry guns near schools or in post offices. And they have upheld laws concerning concealed and unregistered weapons.

“The Heller case is a landmark decision that has not changed very much at all,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. “To date, the federal courts have not invalidated a single gun control law on the basis of the Second Amendment since Heller.”

Heller itself struck down parts of the District of Columbia’s gun control law, the strictest in America. The case was brought by law-abiding people who wanted to keep guns in their homes for self-defense. The cases that have followed it tend to concern more focused laws and less attractive gun owners.

Harvey C. Jackson IV, for instance, argued that he had a constitutional right to carry a gun while selling drugs in a dangerous neighborhood in East St. Louis, Ill. The federal appeals court in Chicago was unimpressed.

Winkler summarized the impact of Heller in an article to be published in The UCLA Law Review in June.