Louisiana, like Texas, lies in the the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. So if the Fifth Circuit greenlights a heat mitigation order there, it could signal which way Texas' pivotal litigation may go. The state of Louisiana has already announced it would appeal: “Given the significant issues involved in this litigation which have far-reaching effects on many correctional institutions in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, the Department intends to seek a thorough review of the trial court’s decision with the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.” Count on the state of Texas at some point to submit amici, which should be interesting to read.
Two years ago, the Fifth Circuit ruled that Texas prisoners could sue over excessive heat. This Louisiana case may tell us the extent to which the court is willing to endorse more coercive remedies to limit heat in prisons under its jurisdiction. Bottom line: If this judgment and precedent is allowed to stand, it's not difficult to chart a path on which Texas could find itself facing federal court orders to mitigate heat in many prison units, not just death row.
As a practical matter, a federal court order is the only way politically Texas prisons could ever be forced to install air conditioning, even in the hottest units, or pay for more labor-intensive heat mitigation measures that cost the state money. If a federal court were to issue such an order, there would be much bipartisan weeping and gnashing of teeth among the political classes about the relative comfort of prisoners vs. the poor, soldiers in Afghanistan, etc., and a great deal of post hoc grumbling about the misplaced priorities of liberalism and the federal government. But the state really would have no choice, in the end, but to pony up and comply.
Time will tell. I've been surprised at the Fifth Circuit's reaction in recent years to heat litigation. They have a reputation as generally unfriendly both to prisoners and civil rights litigation. So if they allow district judges in Louisiana to order heat mitigation at the state level, Texas prison officials and the legislature had better start reaching for their pocketbooks. There's a good chance the hottest Texas prisons won't be far behind.
See related Grits posts:
- Report: 'Deadly heat in Texas prisons'
- Union rep: TDCJ focuses on pigs' comfort over staff, inmates
- Climate-controlled hogs' barn spurred union participation in prisoner heat suit
- TDCJ guard union joins inmate litigation over excessive heat
- Saving TDCJ's bacon: Cool pigs vs. overheated inmates
- TDCJ's pigs to get air conditioning but not prisoners
- More litigation over heat in Texas prisons now that 5th Circuit cleared the way
- 5th Circuit: Inmates can sue TDCJ over excessive heat
- NY Times: Heat a death sentence for ten Texas prisoners last summer
- More litigation over summer heat in Texas prisons: Wrongful death suit filed
- Appellate judge: 'These guys are sitting in and oven ... and no one gives a darn'
- Lack of AC chilling for TDCJ staffing efforts