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Media Alerts - Garner v. Kennedy - Fifth Circuit
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April 2, 2013
  Garner v. Kennedy - Fifth Circuit
Headline: Fifth Circuit rules that inmates may grow short beards for religious reasons.

Area of Law: Constitutional law

Issue Presented: Whether a prison policy generally prohibiting inmates from wearing beards, even for religious reasons, is valid under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

Brief Summary: Willie Lee Garner is a prisoner in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Garner, a Muslim, said his religion requires him to grow a beard. However, TDCJ has a policy that generally prohibits inmates from growing beards. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas enjoined the policy to the extent it prohibited Garner from wearing a quarter-inch beard. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit examined the policy to see if it violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). RLUIPA provides that the government shall not impose a substantial burden on an inmate's religious exercise unless it is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling state interest. The Fifth Circuit found that TDCJ failed to produce evidence that prohibiting beards was the least restrictive means of furthering its interests in controlling prison costs and promoting security. Specifically, TDCJ had not studied the costs of allowing inmates to keep their beards, and it had not demonstrated prison guards would have any significant difficulty in recognizing inmates that grew a quarter-inch beard. Additionally, Garner effectively cross-examined witnesses and provided an expert witness to rebut TDCJ's claims. The Fifth Circuit accordingly affirmed the injunction against the policy.

For the full opinion, please see:

Panel: Circuit Judges Reavley, Prado, and Owen

Argument Date: 6/5/2012

Date of Issued Opinion: 4/2/2013

Docket Number: No. 11-40653

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Ward Goolsby

Counsel: Russell Joe Manning, Hornblower Firm, for Plaintiff-Appellee. James Patrick Sullivan, Office of the Attorney General, for Defendant-Appellant.

Author of Opinion: Judge Owen

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Aaron-Andrew P. Bruhl

    Posted By: Aaron Bruhl @ 04/02/2013 09:35 PM     5th Circuit  

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