Monday, February 29, 2016

Cert Denied In Prisoner Free Exercise Case Over Alito's Dissenting Opinion

The U.S. Supreme Court today denied certiorari in Ben-Levi v. Brown, (Docket No. 14-1086, cert. denied 2/29/2016) over a lengthy dissent to denial of review by Justice Alito (at pg. 39 of Order List). In the case, the lower courts (district court, 4th Cir.) upheld a rule of the North Carolina prison system which requires either a minyan (ten participants) or the presence of a qualified leader (such as a rabbi) in order for a Jewish Bible study group to meet.  Other religious groups were allowed to meet without a specified number of participants or an outside volunteer.  The prison system's rule for Jewish inmates was based on the prison system's understanding of Jewish religious doctrine. Dissenting from the denial of review, Justice Alito wrote:
In essence, respondent’s argument—which was accepted by the courts below—is that Ben-Levi’s religious exercise was not burdened because he misunderstands his own religion..... The argument that a plaintiff’s own interpretation of his or her religion must yield to the government’s interpretation is foreclosed by our precedents.... Even assuming that respondent accurately identified the requirements for a group Torah study under Jewish doctrine—and that is not at all clear—federal courts have no warrant to evaluate “‘the validity of [Ben-Levi’s] interpretations.’”
[Thanks to Marty Lederman via Religionlaw for the lead.]