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Supreme Court Decision Establishes Important Precedent for Prisoners Seeking Access to Judicial System

Supreme Court Decision Establishes Important Precedent for Prisoners Seeking Access to Judicial System Background Image

On March 24, 2022, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Ramirez v. Collier, finding Texas could not prevent death row inmate John Ramirez’s pastor from laying hands and praying over Ramirez in the execution chamber.

A complete victory for Ramirez on every issue, the 8-1 ruling sets important precedents for capital punishment, religious liberty and prisoners’ rights.

A Vinson & Elkins team comprised of Complex Commercial Litigation associates John Greil and Josh Windsor, Appellate associate Bobbye Pyke and Complex Commercial Litigation alumna Jennifer Freel, representing a group of legal experts on prisoners’ rights and prison grievance systems, filed an amicus brief in support of Mr. Ramirez. The brief argued that Ramirez exhausted his administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation and Reform Act. The Court rejected each of Texas’s arguments that Ramirez had not exhausted the prison’s grievance procedure, and concluded that Ramirez was not procedurally barred from seeking judicial relief. The Court accepted the amici’s argument that Ramirez’s request for his pastor to “pray over” him involved audible prayer.

In light of the decision, Mr. Ramirez will be ministered to according to his religious faith at the time of his execution. Moreover, the opinion establishes an important precedent for prisoners in all contexts seeking access to the judicial system.

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