51 UCLA L. Rev. 1505 (2003-2004)
The Culture of Judicial Deference and the Problem of Supermax Prisons

handle is hein.journals/uclalr51 and id is 1535 raw text is: THE CULTURE OF JUDICIAL DEFERENCE AND THE PROBLEM
OF SUPERMAX PRISONS
Mikel-Meredith Weidman
Ever since the prison reform movement ended in the early 1980s, it has
become increasingly difficult for inmates to challenge their conditions of
confinement under the Eighth Amendment. Supreme Court rulings, statutes, and
lower courts' conservative applications of precedent have worked together to create
a culture of deference that constrains federal courts from intervening in prison
affairs. At the same time, the controversial model of the supermax prison has
flourished over the past twenty years, earning notoriety for its harsh regime of
extreme isolation and sensory deprivation. Conditions in supernax facilities test
the boundaries of the Eighth Amendment more than any other contemporary
prison conditions.  Cases challenging supermax conditions therefore illustrate
courts' struggle with the culture of deference more dramatically than do other
Eighth Amendment cases.
This Comment analyzes three recent cases in which federal courts facing
Eighth Amendment challenges to supermax prison conditions granted inmates
relief, and concludes that all of these courts relied on the same strategy to defuse
the tension between their desire to intervene and their obligation to defer. Rather
than engaging in a detailed analysis of the challenged conditions, these courts
shifted their focus to the characteristics of the inmates and tied relief to the vul-
nerability of a subgroup of mentally ill prisoners.
The author argues that this strategy threatens prisoners' rights in the long
term because it prevents courts from policing the constitutionality of new types of
prison conditions.   Based on another recent supermax case, Austin v.
Wilkinson, the author concludes that Fourteenth Amendment procedural due
process challenges may help counter the culture of judicial deference and mitigate
the constricted state of Eighth Amendment jurisprudence by providing a crucial
forum for ongoing constitutional analysis of innovative prison conditions.
IN TRO DU CTIO N  .............................................................................................................  1506
I. JUDICIAL  D EFERENCE .................................................................................................. 1509
A .  The Supreme Court and   Deference .............................................................. 1512
*    Comments Editor, UCLA Law Review, Volume 51. J.D., UCLA School of Law, 2004;
M.A., University of Arizona, 2000; B.A., St. John's College, 1996. I am grateful to Professor
Sharon Dolovich for her persistent encouragement and her generosity with her time and advice. I
would also like to thank the members of the UCLA Law Review for their work on this Comment,
and Gabriel Silvers for his help and patience.

1505

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