The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday freed Orange County jails from a federal judge’s order that required social distancing among inmates, regular testing and distribution of cleaning supplies and hand sanitizers.
Acting by a 5-4 vote, the justices granted an emergency appeal from the county’s lawyers and put on hold an order issued in late May by U.S. District Judge Jesus G. Bernal.
As usual, the justices in the majority did not explain their decision. The four liberal justices dissented. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said inmates had filed statements with the judge contradicting the claims of county jailers that CDC guidelines were being closely followed.
“This court normally does not reward bad behavior, and certainly not with extraordinary equitable relief,” she wrote in a dissent joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “Despite knowing the severe threat posed by COVID–19 and contrary to its own apparent policies, the jail exposed its inmates to significant risks from a highly contagious and potentially deadly disease.”
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