Congress passed the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 to make it harder for prisoners to file lawsuits challenging prison conditions as illegal or unconstitutional. Yesterday, says the New York Times, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati had overstepped its bounds by making prisoner lawsuits even harder to file than Congress intended.
Chief Justice John Roberts said courts should apply to prisoners' lawsuits the same procedural rules they apply to any other lawsuit. The ruling was greeted with relief by advocates for prisoners' rights, who said the lower court's approach had threatened to make it all but impossible for an inmate not represented by a lawyer to navigate the procedural hurdles to get a case accepted for a hearing. Elizabeth Alexander of the American Civil Liberties Uniion said the decision marked the first time in a half-dozen rulings that the Supreme Court had not adopted the most unfavorable possible interpretation of the law. The nigh court noted that prisoners' lawsuits accounted for nearly 10 percent of all civil cases filed in federal court and that many were without merit.