Reporting from Washington — The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear an appeal from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and decide whether the state can be forced to release 46,000 inmates -- more than one-fourth of its prison population -- to relieve overcrowding.
The court's intervention is a victory for the governor and state prison officials, and it puts a judicial order on hold, at least until this fall.
At issue is whether federal judges have the power to order the release of state prisoners as a necessary means of curing a constitutional violation.
A special panel of three judges ruled last year that inmates in the state's 33 prisons were being denied adequate medical care as required by the Constitution. Because overcrowding was the "primary cause," they ordered the state to cap its prison population at 137% of capacity. That would require releasing about 46,000 inmates over the next two years.