Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievance.
Incarceration is a special context in which the government has more authority to restrict the freedom of association. The Supreme Court has explained that the “fact of confinement and the needs of the penal institution impose limitations on constitutional rights,” most notably, the freedom of association.1 Accordingly, the standard of review for freedom-of-association claims is deferential to the government and prison administrators. The Court has held that “when a prison regulation impinges on inmates’ constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.” 2 In evaluating reasonableness, the Court has considered: (1) whether there is a “valid, rational connection between the prison regulation” and a “legitimate and neutral” governmental interest; (2) whether prison inmates have “alternative means of exercising the right” available to them; (3) the “impact accommodation of the asserted constitutional right will have on guards and other inmates, and on the allocation of prison resources generally” ; and (4) the “absence of ready alternatives” to the regulation.3
Applying the “reasonable relationship” test, the Court upheld a ban on inmate solicitation and group meetings for a prisoners’ union;4 restrictions on visitation by children;5 and restrictions on certain types of correspondence between inmates.6 In contrast, the Court struck down a regulation prohibiting prisoners to marry only with the permission of the prison’s superintendent and only for “compelling reasons.” 7 The Court held that the fundamental constitutional right to marry—a right of intimate association—applies in the prison context and that the regulation at issue was “not reasonably related” to the prison’s “security and rehabilitation concerns.” 8
- Jones v. N.C. Prisoners’ Labor Union, Inc., 433 U.S. 119, 125 (1977). See Amdt18.104.22.168 Prison Free Speech and Government as Prison Administrator.
- Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987), superseded by statute, Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, Pub. L. No. 103-141, 107 Stat. 1488 (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb).
- Id. at 89–90 (internal quotation marks omitted).
- Jones, 433 U.S. at 129–33.
- Overton v. Bazzetta, 539 U.S. 126 (2003).
- Turner, 482 U.S. at 93; see also Shaw v. Murphy, 532 U.S. 223, 231 (2001) (declining “to cloak the provision of legal assistance with any First Amendment protection above and beyond the protection normally accorded prisoners’ speech” under Turner).
- Turner, 482 U.S. at 98–99.
- Id. at 95–97.