The U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear a case about the right to have a beard in prison after receiving this 15-page handwritten petition from an inmate serving a life sentence in Arkansas.
The decision is remarkable since the nation’s top court grants and hears argument in about 1% of the petitions filed each term. “The vast majority of petitions are simply denied by the Court without comment or explanation,” according to the Supreme Court’s website.
Gregory Holt, 38, was convicted of domestic violence after cutting his girlfriend’s throat and stabbing her in the chest.
Holt, who goes by the name Abdul Malik Muhammad, is a practicing Muslim who wears a half-inch-long beard. The Arkansas department of correction’s grooming policy prohibits beards because of hygiene and safety regulations.
When asking the Supreme Court to hear his case, Holt said the policy violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the First Amendment. He also cited 16 prior cases with conflicting rulings in lower courts and pointed out that the Supreme Court has never decided on the issue before.
Justice Samuel Alito received Holt’s form and blocked Arkansas from forcing Holt to shave the beard until after the scheduled hearing date in the Court’s next term, which starts in October 2014.
Holt was able to get his petition to the Court without paying any fees stating, “I have been incarcerated for over four years and have no source of income to pay the filing fee.” Through a writ of certiorari, in forma pauperis, a petitioner may declare a lack of funds in order to take legal action.
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