updated 11/14/2005 11:24:30 AM ET 2005-11-14T16:24:30

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider reinstating rules that keep newspapers and magazines out of the hands of disruptive Pennsylvania inmates, a case that court nominee Samuel Alito dealt with as an appeals court judge.

A panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had sided with inmates who claimed the ban on most reading material and personal photographs violated their free speech rights.

Alito, one of the lower court judges in the case, had filed a dissent and argued that the state should be allowed to withhold the news.

Alito said that they were “temporary, last-resort restrictions” and were not unconstitutional.

If Alito is confirmed, he will likely recuse himself. That would mean the case would be heard by the other eight justices, with the potential for a tie.

Alito had said in his dissent that prison officials could encourage good inmate behavior with the promise of newspapers to those who behave.

The lawyer for the inmate who challenged the ban, which includes newspapers, magazines and photographs, told justices that prisoners in the “segregation unit” are kept in their cells 23 hours a day and are rarely able to speak with each other.

“In this closed environment, the impact of the challenged policy is stifling and far-reaching. It essentially blocks the flow of information to these men about current political, social and other public events occurring outside the prison walls,” Jere Krakoff of Pittsburgh wrote in the appeal.

The state argued that the restrictions are only imposed on the most disruptive inmates who have not responded to other punishments, like loss of tobacco privileges and visits. State attorneys quoted Alito’s dissent in urging the Supreme Court to hear the appeal.

The case is Beard v. Banks, 04-1739.

In other decisions Monday, the court:

  • Dismissed a case that would have spelled out what police should do when suspects demand to see an attorney, but then talk anyway.
  • Sidestepped a dispute over the constitutionality of putting “In God We Trust” on government buildings.
  • Refused to review Florida’s lifetime ban on voting rights for convicted felons, a case that would have had national implications for millions of would-be voters.

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