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California: Gilmore Injunction Over Prison Libraries Terminated After 38 Years

Four months after adopting regulations setting forth a statewide mandate that “[a]ll inmates, regardless of their classification or housing status, shall be entitled to physical law library access that is sufficient to provide meaningful access to the courts” (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 15, § 3123), the State of California successfully moved to terminate an injunction imposed 38 years earlier in a case, Gilmore v. California, initially brought by San Quentin prisoners in 1966, concerning access to law books and the courts. Although no class was ever certified, in 1972 the U.S. District Court in San Francisco issued an order requiring that all California prisons maintain a specified list of legal research material in their libraries. The new regulations require that prisons maintain, at a minimum, the materials specified in the Gilmore injunction. And, under California law, such regulations have the force and effect of law; accordingly, the rights conferred by those regulations can be enforced by state courts.

The State moved to terminate the 1972 injunction in October 2009, pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act and Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b) (5), before the new regulations had been implemented. The Prison Law Office (PLO), representing prisoners’ interests, filed a motion in opposition two months later. After conducting discovery, however, the PLO concluded that whatever complaints remained regarding prisoners’ access to law libraries and to the courts, those complaints were now better addressed in the state courts. In April 2010, it withdrew its opposition to the State’s motion. See: Gilmore v. California, USDC ND CA, No. CV 66-45878 SI.

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Related legal case

Gilmore v. California