Gregory Holt, an inmate at the Arkansas Department of Corrections, wants to grow his beard as a practicing Salafi Muslim. But Arkansas Corrections restricts beard length to a quarter of an inch. In protest, Holt filed a petition, arguing that the policy is a violation of his religious liberties under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Holt’s case is one of many scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in its next term, which begins Oct. 6.
Justices have already agreed to hear a host of cases that could affect state or local government, where a ftc defense attorney will need to be present. The disputes cover a range of issues, from a small town sign code that could be restricting free speech to a state regulatory board alleged to be violating federal antitrust law.
In the Holt case, scheduled for a hearing Oct. 7, attorneys general from 18 states have written to support Arkansas, contending that “uniform grooming policies serve compelling interests in security, order, hygiene and discipline.” Judges should defer to prison officials in balancing religious rights with public health and safety, the attorneys general say.
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The attorneys general supporting Arkansas note that in other state prisons, inmates have hidden shanks, wire, rocks, razor blades and handcuff keys in their hair and beards. They also say that when inmates are allowed to grow facial hair and then shave it, the dramatic change in appearance poses a security risk, as prison guards might not recognize the inmate. If the court sides with Holt, the ruling will probably have narrow implications for prison grooming policies, but it could have larger meaning in terms of how prisons and jails balance safety concerns with religious liberties.
The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) has identified 10 cases, including Holt’s, that might affect state and local government. The center files amicus briefs with the Supreme Court on behalf of the National Governors Association, the Council of State Governments, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities and the International City/County Management Association. Below is an initial list of Supreme Court cases already scheduled for the next term that could matter for state and local government.
Lisa Soronen, the executive director at SLLC, also has curated a separate list of other relevant cases that the Supreme Court could decide to hear this term. For an even more in-depth review of upcoming cases with implications with states and localities, SLLC is hosting a free webinar Oct. 16.