In a major setback for Gov. Jerry Brown, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday declined to block a court order that he release 9,600 inmates from state prisons, moving California a step closer to relocating or freeing those prisoners by the end of the year.
The state can still pursue its appeal — and the administration vowed to do so. But the court's 6-3 vote was a disappointment for Brown, who had launched a political crusade against a three-judge panel that has consistently ruled that overcrowded prison conditions violate the rights of inmates.
The panel has ordered Brown to bring the number of inmates in its prisons down to 112,164 by the end of the year.
Brown's lawyers told the justices that the state has improved the treatment of inmates, easing crowding by keeping tens of thousands of prisoners in county custody and spending hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the quality of prison healthcare.
The panel's demands, Brown has argued repeatedly, create a serious public safety threat. The state had asked the high court to put the panel's order on hold while an appeal goes forward.
But the Supreme Court was not persuaded. The majority denied Brown's request for a stay without comment.