He went out of his way last month to protect officials at the expense of injured inmates.
March 2, 2018
Justice Neil Gorsuch may have been curiously silent last week when a big public union case came before the Court. But he spoke eloquently one week earlier in an Illinois case about prison litigation that merits more attention than it so far has received. What the newest justice said, in effect, is that a dubious federal law used for decades to undermine accountability in cases of prison abuse and neglect ought to be even more protective of corrections officials and even less hospitable to inmates.
The Illinois case, styled Murphy v. Smith, was about who must pay attorney’s fees when a prisoner sues his guards and wins a damage award from a judge or jury. So this isn’t a case about a frivolous lawsuit. It’s a case about a meritorious one. Charles Murphy, the prisoner, was abused by guards at the Vandalia (Ill.) Correctional Center after he complained that the chair he was supposed to sit in for a meal had food and water in it. For that he was handcuffed and escorted to a segregation unit. Once there, Justice Sotomayor wrote in her dissent:
Murphy taunted respondent Correctional Officer Robert Smith, who responded by hitting Murphy in the eye and applying a choke hold, causing Murphy to lose consciousness. When Murphy woke up, Officer Smith and respondent Lieutenant Gregory Fulk were pushing him into a cell. His hands were still cuffed behind his back and he fell face-first into the cell and hit his head on a metal toilet. Officer Smith and Lieutenant Fulk then stripped Murphy of his clothes, removed his handcuffs, and left him in the cell without checking his condition. Thirty or forty minutes passed until a nurse arrived to attend to Murphy, who was sent to a hospital. Part of his eye socket had been crushed and required surgery. Despite the procedure, Murphy did not fully recover; almost five years later, his vision remained doubled and blurred. KEEP READING