updated 2/23/2005 6:46:34 PM ET 2005-02-23T23:46:34

State prisons may not temporarily segregate inmates by skin color except under the most extraordinary circumstances, the Supreme Court said Wednesday, all but ending a 25-year-old California policy aimed at reducing gang-related violence.

The 5-3 decision sets aside a lower court ruling that had gone California’s way. Lawyers for that state had argued that California should have wide leeway to set race-based restrictions to promote safety.

As a result, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals must now scrutinize the policy for hard evidence that it is necessary and works — a burden that will be hard to meet.

Racial segregation is unconstitutional unless there is a “compelling” reason, justices said.

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