State seeks to quash prison First Amendment case

The Gainesville Sun by Jim Saunders / The News Service of Florida

December 4, 2018

TALLAHASSEE — In a First Amendment dispute that has drawn attention from a wide range of groups, Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office this week asked the U.S. Supreme Court to turn down an appeal by a magazine that has been blocked from distribution to Florida prison inmates.

State attorneys filed a 44-page brief urging the Supreme Court to deny consideration of a long-running legal battle with Prison Legal News. A U.S. district judge and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the state, which argues that advertisements in Prison Legal News pose security risks.

The brief filed Monday disputed arguments that the Florida Department of Corrections has violated First Amendment rights or that it has imposed a “blanket ban” on the publication. The brief said the department has blocked distribution of the monthly magazine because of ads for such things as three-way phone calling services, which can be used to facilitate crimes.

“The policies challenged in this case are neutral on their face and reasonably calculated to curtail prisoners’ access to the means of committing crimes; the district court expressly found that those policies do not have the purpose or effect of suppressing disfavored viewpoints; petitioner (Prison Legal News) has not asked this (Supreme) Court to rule that those factual findings are clearly erroneous; and, if and when record evidence supports a finding of invidious discrimination or other comparable malfeasance on the part of prison officials, nothing in the Eleventh Circuit’s decision would bar a newspaper or prisoner from proving such a claim and obtaining appropriate judicial relief,” the brief said.

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