The U.S. Supreme Court may be on the verge of ordering the state to reduce its inmate population, now nearly 150,000, by perhaps 40,000 on the grounds that overcrowding is causing unconstitutional health problems.
The state appealed an order of a three-judge panel to that effect. This week, the case was argued before the Supreme Court. It was evident from the justices’ questions that the court’s four liberal members were inclined to uphold the order while its four conservatives were disinclined, leaving – as often occurs – Anthony Kennedy as the swing vote.
Kennedy hails from Sacramento, was an aide to former Gov. Ronald Reagan before beginning his judicial career and therefore has a unique knowledge of the state’s complex political and cultural climate.
Kennedy indicated that he leans toward upholding the order, saying, “At some point, the court (in California) has to say, ‘You have been given enough time. … The constitutional violation still exists. It’s now time for a remedy.’ That’s what it did, and that seems to me … a perfectly reasonable decision.”