[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday heard oral arguments on whether prisons which deny difficult inmates access to newspapers, magazines, and photographs are violating the First Amendment [text]. In the case of Beard v. Banks [Duke Law backgrounder, merit briefs], the Court focused on whether the court should regulate states in managing their inmates and whether prison officials who have denied such privileges to inmates have infringed on their First Amendment rights. Plaintiff Ronald Banks, a convicted murderer considered a security risk, sued the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections in 2001 after he was barred from reading the Christian Science Monitor newspaper in a now-closed correctional facility in Pittsburgh. Prison systems nationwide could be affected by the outcome of this case if they are required to prove that their policies serve legitimate security and rehabilitative interests. While the Bush administration favors states policing their own prisons, religious and civil liberties groups maintain that fundamental rights under the First Amendment should not be taken away at the discretion of prison officials. Justice Samuel Alito has recused himself because he ruled on the case (dissenting, holding against Banks) while serving on the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals, leaving the possibility that the high court case could end up in a tie. AP has more.
Also Monday, the Court heard oral arguments in Anza v. Ideal Steel Supply [Duke Law backgrounder, merit briefs], a case in which it will decide when a company can use a federal anti-racketeering law to claim damages from a competitor's alleged fraud. Ideal has raised a charge of a violation of the RICO statute [text], alleging that National Steel Supply (owned by the Anza family) did not collect a New York sales tax from customers paying in cash which allowed it to significantly undercut Ideal's business. Since National Steel Supply mailed fraudulent sales tax reports to the State Department of Taxation and Finance, the Court will have to decide whether Ideal Steel Supply can still assert a RICO violation even though it was not the party defrauded and did not rely on the alleged fraudulent behavior.