Supreme Court Lifts Order Aimed at Curbing Virus in California Jail

The U.S. Supreme Court lifted a lower court order that required specific steps to curb Covid-19 at four southern California jail facilities that have seen more than 400 cases since the outbreak began.

Voting 5-4 along ideological lines, the high court granted a request from officials at the Orange County Jail, as the facilities are collectively known. The officials said a federal trial judge had overstepped his authority by ordering spacing, cleaning protocols and inmate testing.

The Supreme Court majority gave no explanation for blocking the order while the litigation goes forward.

Dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor said U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal concluded the jail “exposed its inmates to significant risks from a highly contagious and potentially deadly disease.” She added, “yet this court now intervenes, leaving to its own devices a jail that has misrepresented its actions to the district court and failed to safeguard the health of the inmates in its care.”

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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Sotomayor’s dissent. Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan also said they would have left Bernal’s order in force.

At least 476 inmates have tested positive for the virus since March in the Orange County Jail. Jail officials say the vast majority of those cases have come from newly arrested people. As of July 31, 2,929 of the 3,380 inmates have been tested, jail officials said.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly barred judicial second-guessing of state and local officials trying to navigate the coronavirus outbreak. The justices have also rejected churches challenging shut-down orders and voters seeking more options for casting ballots safely.

The case is Barnes v. Ahlman, 20A19.

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