The Supreme Court upheld Monday federal prison regulations giving officials wide authority to ban magazines and other publications sent to inmates.
The court, in a 6-3 decision by Justice Harry Blackmun, said the government had a legitimate reason for enacting the regulations limiting prison access to publications and that reason was "protecting prison security.""We also conclude that the broad discretion accorded prison wardens by the regulations here at issue is rationally related to security interests," Blackmun said for the majority.
In dissent, however, Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by Justice William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall, said the prison rules were too broad and the evidence slim that the publications pose a security risk.
"No evidence supports the court's assumption that, unlike personal letters, these publications will circulate within the prison and cause ripples of disruption," Stevens wrote.
"Nor is there any evidence that an incoming publication ever caused a disciplinary or security problem; indeed, some of the rejected publications were delivered to inmates in other prisons without incident."
In other action, the court:
-Ruled 6-3 that state prison officials have wide authority to bar certain individuals from visiting prisoners.
-Upheld, on a 5-4 vote, a lower court ruling that investor claims made under the 1933 Securities Act against stockbrokers can be subject to arbitration agreements.
The publications case began in May 1973 when federal prisoners brought a class action suit to challenge regulations of the United States Bureau of Prisons that involve the receipt of publications by federal convicts.
The regulations allowed the warden to withhold publications from prisoners if they would be "detrimental to the security good order, or discipline of the institution or that it might facilitate criminal activity." The Bureau of Prisons also had a practice of excluding an entire publication even if just a portion of it was found objectionable.
Some of the publications banned were extreme right and left wing political publications, including the newsletter of the American Nazi Party and publications advocating homosexual behavior.
Among those involved in the suit was Jack Henry Abbott, who later won literary praise and release from prison for his book "In the Belly of the Beast," based on letters he sent to Norman Mailer over a three-year period beginning in 1977.
Abbott was returned to prison after being convicted of first degree manslaughter by a New York State Supreme Court jury on Jan. 21, 1982, in the stabbing death of a waiter and aspiring playwright outside a Manhattan restaurant in 1981.
The regulations were upheld in federal district court following a 10-day trial in 1984, but that decision was reversed on appeal.