On November 6, 2019, Judge Roslyn O. Silver of the District of Arizona issued a permanent injunction barring the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) from censoring longtime RBGG client Prison Legal News’s (PLN) monthly news publication, Prison Legal News, and requiring the Department to comply with the First Amendment by amending its mail policies “to establish bright-line rules that narrowly define prohibited content in a manner consistent with the First Amendment; limit the discretion available to ADC’s employees and agents; and ensure consistency in the exclusion of sexually explicit material.” The ruling follows the court’s prior order from March 2019 granting summary judgment for PLN on its First and Fourteenth Amendment claims. The final order is here: Order PLN v Ryan 11-6-19
The Arizona Daily Star covered the court’s latest ruling in an article on November 11, 2019, Federal judge says Arizona prisons too broadly censor publications that prisoners can see.
The court ruled that an ADC policy banning sexually explicit and/or sexually suggestive materials was unconstitutional both because it “violates the First Amendment on its face” and because ADC applied the policy to ban Prison Legal News when there was no legitimate penological reason for doing so. Judge Roslyn O. Silver also found that two individuals responsible for the promulgation and enforcement of the policy, ADC Director Charles Ryan and Deputy Director Jeff Hood, were individually liable for failing to provide PLN with notice of its censorship in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, the publisher of PLN, was quoted in media coverage March’s summary judgment ruling by KJZZ – the Phoenix public radio station. (Judge Finds Prison Policy Unconstitutional) According to Mr. Wright, “I call it a First Amendment case that happens to be in prison. This is about a publishers right to distribute our magazine to an incarcerated audience.” Later in the article he goes on to say, “I don’t really think that they, actually, in their heart of hearts, believe that we are pornographic, so much as they are using this as a pretext to try to censor us and prevent prisoners in Arizona from learning what their rights are in the event that they are sexually assaulted.” PLN has approximately 9,000 subscribers nationwide, 70% of whom are incarcerated.
RBGG’s Lisa Ells, lead counsel for PLN on the case, commented: “Whether they have taken out the publication wholesale or they’re just using the government censor pen and redacting out what they don’t like, either one is a violation of the First Amendment. Because it’s the government deciding what people can and can’t read inside the prison system.” Ms. Ells goes on to say, “If the Arizona Department of Corrections feels like it can censor this publication when it’s quoting court cases, then it also feels like it can censor what the courts can say or what prisoners can read about their legal rights in the prison system.” She praised the court’s ruling in this precedent setting case: “We think it had the potential to really expand censorship in other prison systems across the country if she hadn’t held firm here.”