Arkansas prison inmate Gregory Holt has a violent past, a dreary future and now a decent shot at a Supreme Court victory, McClatchy Newspapers reports. Yesterday, conservative and liberal justices alike sounded sympathetic to Holt's claims that prison officials' refusal to let him grow a half-inch beard violates his religious rights. If he wins, Holt will join inmates in California and elsewhere who have upended prison grooming standards, while no-beard rules in states like Georgia, Texas and South Carolina could be vulnerable.
Several justices challenged Arkansas officials' insistence that inmates could hide contraband in beards, or shave them as a disguise. “Not one example has ever been found of anyone ever hiding anything in their beard,” Justice Stephen Breyer noted, suggesting the state's fears are “grossly exaggerated.” Justice Samuel Alito added that Arkansas officials could have a comb pass through inmates' beards, concluding with a wry image that punctured the state's dire warnings. “If there's anything in there … a tiny revolver, it'll fall out,” Alito said.