Friday, August 07, 2015

11th Circuit Upholds Alabama's Prison Grooming Rules Despite Supreme Court's Remand After Holt v. Hobbs Decision

After the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year decided Holt v. Hobbs, concluding that RLUIPA invalidated the Arkansas prison system's grooming requirements as applied to a Muslim inmate seeking to grow a one-half inch beard, it remanded for further consideration an Alabama case in which Native American inmates challenged grooming requirements banning their long hair. (See prior posting.) Deciding the case on remand, in Knight v. Thompson, (11th Cir., Aug. 5, 2015), the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals held that despite Holt, the Alabama grooming requirements are valid. The 11th Circuit distinguished Holt:
While Holt sought to grow a ½-inch beard, such that the Department had to show how denying him a ½-inch beard actually furthered its compelling interests, the Plaintiffs here request a complete exemption of long, unshorn hair from the ADOC’s short-hair policy....
[T]he “detailed record developed” below distinguishes this case from Holt, where the lower courts gave “unquestioning deference” to prison officials’ conclusory and speculative assertions. As we stated in our previous opinion, the ADOC has “shown that Plaintiffs’ requested exemption poses actual security, discipline, hygiene, and safety risks” and neither we nor Plaintiffs can “point to a less restrictive alternative that accomplishes the ADOC’s compelling goals.”
The 11th Circuit reinstated its prior opinion in the case, with modifications in Section 3(b)(ii) of the opinion. (Full text of modified opinion.) AP reports on the decision.