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Lewis v. Casey

Citation. 518 U.S. 343, 116 S. Ct. 2174, 135 L. Ed. 2d 606, 1996 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

Prisoners sued the State of Arizona, alleging they were deprived of rights of access to courts and counsel.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Access to the courts by prisoners requires that prisoners be able to address their own cases, not become legal experts.


The Respondents, Casey and other inmates (Respondents), allege that the Petitioners, Lewis and others associated with the Department of Corrections (Petitioners), have not presented them with up-to-date legal materials, legal libraries and photocopying services, among others. The Respondents allege that these denials have denied them the ability to access the courts.


Do prisoners have rights to particular, specific materials under the United States Constitution (Constitution)?


No. Reversed. Justice Antonin Scalia (J. Scalia) points out that the Respondent inmates have not alleged specific injuries, only generalized grievances. Because of this, the Respondents do not have standing to bring suit.


Justice John Paul Stevens (J. Stevens) argues that the Supreme Court of the United States’ views on standing are too strict and that the Respondents have at least a right to bring suit.
Concurrence. Justice Clarence Thomas (J. Thomas) agrees in the judgment, but writes separately to decry what he sees as overreaching of federal district courts in running the day-to-day affairs of prisons.


The majority only briefly touches on substantive issues of the complaint, as J. Scalia is more interested in dismissing the case for want of standing. Even then, it is clear the majority feels that prisoners are asking for too much, even in their generalized complaints.

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