WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Thursday put on hold a judge’s ruling that would require the U.S. government to move up to 837 potentially at-risk prisoners out of a federal prison in Ohio due to concerns about the health risks of the coronavirus.
Sotomayor, who has responsibility for emergency appeals arising from Ohio, in a brief order granted a request by President Donald Trump’s administration to temporarily block the lower court ruling while the government appeals the decision.
The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is due to hear arguments in the case on Friday.
The Supreme Court on May 26 rejected the administration’s first request seeking to block the judge’s ruling.
Inmates at the Elkton Correctional Institution filed suit in April saying that the conditions at the facility in eastern Ohio violate their rights under the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment.
The inmates affected are more at risk from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, because they are of advanced age or have underlying health conditions, or both, according to the lawsuit.
Nine inmates had died from the virus at the facility as of May 8, according to court papers.
The Justice Department, representing the Bureau of Prisons, has said that the government already has implemented a plan to protect inmates from COVID-19.
Cleveland-based U.S. District Court Judge James Gwin on April 22 issued a preliminary injunction backing the inmates’ claims. On May 4, the appeals court declined to block the ruling.
As part of the judge’s order, the Bureau of Prisons would be required to weigh whether inmates can be released to home confinement or on compassionate grounds as an alternative to transferring them to another facility.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Leslie Adler)