Friday, November 15, 2013

Thornburgh v. Abbott case brief

Thornburgh v. Abbott case brief summary
490 U.S. 401 (1989)

Respondents, a class of inmates and publishers, claimed that prison regulations regarding incoming publications violated their First Amendment rights. They mounted a facial challenge as well as a challenge to the regulations as applied to 46 specific publications. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed a judgment upholding the regulations. Petitioner prison officials sought certiorari.

The regulations at issue broadly permitted federal prisoners to receive publications from the outside, but authorized prison officials to reject incoming publications found to be detrimental to institutional security.


  • The Court granted certiorari in order to determine the appropriate standard of review in such a case. 
  • The Court held that regulations affecting the sending of a publication to a prisoner must be analyzed under the Turner reasonableness standard. 
  • Under this standard, such regulations are valid if they are reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. 
  • The Court further held that the Martinez analysis was limited to regulations concerning outgoing correspondence. 
  • Applying the Turner reasonableness standard to the regulations at issue, the Court concluded that they were facially valid. 
  • In particular, the governmental objective of protecting prison security was legitimate and neutral and the regulations were rationally related to that objective. 
  • Moreover, the Court agreed with the district court that the regulations on their face were not an "exaggerated response" to the problem at hand and that no obvious, easy alternative had been established.


The Court vacated the judgment of the appellate court and remanded the matter for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. The Court agreed with the appellate court's decision to remand the case to the district court for an examination of the validity of the regulations as applied to any of the 46 publications introduced at trial as to which there remained a live controversy.

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