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Supreme Court Rejects Elderly Texas Inmates on Covid Steps (1)

Nov. 16, 2020, 9:02 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to reinstate a judge’s order that had required a Texas prison for elderly inmates to take specific steps to protect against the coronavirus outbreak.

The justices on Monday rejected calls by inmates Laddy Valentine and Richard King, who said the Wallace Pack Unit in southeastern Texas isn’t doing enough to protect them from infection. They contended a federal appeals court was wrong to block the safety measures.

The Supreme Court gave no explanation. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented, saying 20 inmates have already died after contracting Covid-19.

“If the prison fails to enforce social distancing and mask wearing, perform regular testing, and take other essential steps, the inmates can do nothing but wait for the virus to take its toll,” Sotomayor wrote for the pair. She said she feared “further, needless suffering.”

The high court turned away a similar request from the Wallace prisoners in May. The Supreme Court has generally declined to second-guess prisons on the steps they take to guard against the spread of the coronavirus.

U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison’s order required regular cleaning of common surfaces, unrestricted access to hand soap, staff use of personal protective equipment, weekly testing, contact tracing and quarantining of inmates awaiting test results.

Texas officials said in court papers that infections at the facility have decreased dramatically in recent months. They contended that the prison has worked diligently to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and that the inmates hadn’t shown the steps ordered by Ellison would reduce the risk any further.

The case is Valentine v. Collier, 20A70.

(Updates with excerpt from Sotomayor opinion in fourth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story:
Greg Stohr in Washington at gstohr@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net

Elizabeth Wasserman

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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