Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a leading candidate for vice president, openly defied U.S. Supreme Court orders to reduce overcrowding in California prisons while serving as the state’s attorney general, reports the American Prospect. Working with Gov. Jerry Brown, Harris and her legal team filed motions that were condemned by judges and legal experts as obstructionist, bad-faith, and nonsensical, at one point suggesting that the Supreme Court lacked the jurisdiction to order a reduction in California’s prison population. Judges seriously considered holding the state in contempt of court. Observers worried that Harris’s office had undermined the ability of federal judges to enforce their legal orders at the state level. The resistance to a Supreme Court ruling was aimed at preventing the release of some 5,000 nonviolent offenders, whom courts had cleared as presenting next to no risk of recidivism or threat to public safety.
Despite a straightforward directive from the Supreme Court to identify prisoners for release over a two-year period, the state spent most of that time seesawing between dubious legal filings and flagrant disregard. By early 2013, it became clear that the state had no intention to comply. Harris refused to comment to the Prospect, which reviewed in detail the events leading up the 2011 Supreme Court ruling that required a reduction in the California prisoner count. In the 5-4 decision, conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the court’s liberals, condemning the state for facilitating “needless suffering and death.” Under Attorney General Harris, the state delayed compliance, and by 2012, a report surfaced that proved the state actually intended to increase its prison population.