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Review of 10th Circuit ruling in PLN's ADX censorship case

ABA Journal, Dec. 19, 2019.

Federal prison’s new policy moots suit by Prison Legal News over censorship, appeals court rules

A federal prison’s decision to distribute Prison Legal News to inmates and change its policy has mooted the publication’s censorship lawsuit, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the publication’s bid to keep the suit alive and win an injunction preventing future censorship, the Associated Press reports. The Dec. 13 decision is here.

Prison Legal News had alleged violations of its First and Fifth Amendment rights when prison officials refused to distribute 11 copies of its magazine at the Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado, between 2010 and 2014.

The publication claimed content censorship and lack of timely notice. It also claimed violation of the Administrative Procedure Act through arbitrary and capricious decision-making.

Officials had banned the publication because it named individual inmates and employees at the Florence facility.

After Prison Legal News sued, the Bureau of Prisons distributed the 11 publications in March 2017. In December 2017, the prison issued a new policy that says publications may not be rejected solely because they discuss an inmate or staff member.

In October 2018, the federal district court ruled the developments had mooted the publication’s claims and tossed the case. The 10th Circuit upheld the decision.

Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, told the Associated Press he was disappointed in the ruling. It was the second time the Bureau of Prisons censored the magazine, he said, and the “second time they claimed the suit was moot by capitulating at the last minute and delivering the censored publications years after they were published.”

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