Supreme Court Denies PLN Florida Censorship Appeal
On 7 January 2019 the Supreme Court refused to take up a First Amendment case challenging the statewide ban of Prison Legal News (PLN) in the Florida Department of Corrections. The ban has been in place since 2009. This appeal was the final attempt to challenge the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which sided with the Florida DOC.(1) Each year thousands of cert petitions are filed with the Supreme Court and most are not heard. As is typical, no reasons were given for the PLN case denial.
The Florida DOC maintains that they are censoring PLN for safety and security reasons. The appellate court found this censorship justified related to certain advertisements in PLN including ads for pen pal services, businesses that purchase postage stamps, and third-party phone services.
We know there is no real safety and security justification for censoring PLN. It's an educational publication that helps many prisoners gain legal knowledge and fight back against injustices. PLN is, however, a threat to the institution of prisons in the United $tates. Prison Legal News fights for prisoners' rights and exposes injustices around the country. This is counter to the interests of a system that is focused on social control.
A number of groups stepped up to file or sign briefs in support of PLN. Of particular interest is one from a group of former Correctional Officers, including some from Florida. They argue, very rationally, that the complete censorship of PLN is an exaggerated response to security concerns and a constitutional violation.(2) Of course these former C.O.s, and many others who support allowing PLN into the Florida DOC, made very narrow arguments that still protected the DOC's "right" to censor anything they deem dangerous. These supporters are just opposing censorship for something so obviously not dangerous as it exposes the falsehood that prisons are censoring mail in the interests of safety and security.
This PLN lawsuit sets a very bad precedent for others fighting censorship as the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision stands. Fortunately it should not directly impact ULK as we don't run these third-party ads. Though Florida did censor ULK 62 for "stamp program advertisement." While we do accept stamps as donations, we run no stamp programs. This goes to show that when there is no justification for censorship, the prisons will just make up things not even in the publication.
Any ruling upholding censorship in prisons is a bad one. This ruling further exposes the reality that there are no rights, only power struggles. The First Amendment only protects speech for those privileged enough to buy that protection.