Turner v. Safley

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Turner v. Safley
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued January 13, 1987
Decided June 1, 1987
Full case name William R. Turner, Superintendent, Missouri Department of Corrections, et al. v. Leonard Safley, et al.
Citations 482 U.S. 78 (more)
107 S. Ct. 2254; 96 L. Ed. 2d 64; 1987 U.S. LEXIS 2362; 55 U.S.L.W. 4719
Prior history Judgment in part for plaintiffs, 586 F. Supp. 589 (W.D. Mo. 1984); affirmed, 777 F.2d 1307 (8th Cir. 1985); certiorari granted, 476 U.S. 1139 (1986)
A Missouri prison regulation restricting inmates from marrying without permission violated their constitutional right to marry because it was not logically related to a legitimate penological concern, but a prohibition on inmate-to-inmate correspondence was justified by prison security needs and so was permissible under the First Amendment, as applied through the Fourteenth. Eighth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell Jr. · John P. Stevens
Sandra Day O'Connor · Antonin Scalia
Case opinions
Majority O'Connor, joined by Rehnquist, White, Powell, Scalia; Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, Stevens (in part III-B only)
Concur/dissent Stevens, joined by Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amends. I, XIV

Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987),[1] was a U.S. Supreme Court decision involving the constitutionality of two prison regulations. One of the prisoners' complaints related to the fundamental right to marry.

Findings of the case[edit]

In a mixed two opinions the court ultimately ruled in part in favor of petitioner (defendant) Turner. Citing the reduced liberty and greater security needs of the prison context, the Court declined to use the strict scrutiny standard of review. It ruled 5-4 to uphold a regulation that allowed prison officials to prohibit inmates at one prison from corresponding with those at another in certain cases, calling it "reasonable and facially valid". By a unanimous vote,[482 U.S. 80 (1987)] the Court struck down another regulation that prohibited inmates from marrying without the permission of the warden, finding that it was "not...reasonably related to legitimate penological objectives" and "impermissibly burdened" their right to marry.

This decision is in line with the Supreme Court's decision in Loving v. Virginia that the right to marry is a fundamental right protected by the liberty element of the due process clause.

The Turner court noted many purposes of marriage, including:

expressions of emotional support and public commitment .... many religions recognize marriage as having spiritual significance; for some inmates and their spouses, therefore, the commitment of marriage may be an exercise of religious faith as well as an expression of personal dedication. Third, most inmates eventually will be released by parole or commutation, and therefore most inmate marriages are formed in the expectation that they ultimately will be fully consummated. Finally, marital status often is a precondition to the receipt of government benefits (e. g., Social Security benefits), property rights (e. g., tenancy by the entirety, inheritance rights), and other, less tangible benefits (e. g., legitimation of children born out of wedlock).

— Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 96.

Turner Test[edit]

The case also resulted in a widely used test to determine if prison regulations that burden fundamental rights are constitutional. The Turner test attempted to balance the punitive and rehabilitative goals of corrections officials with the constitutional rights of prisoners by asking if such regulations were "reasonably related" to legitimate penological interests or were instead an "exaggerated response" to those concerns.

In order to determine if a regulation was reasonably related to a penological interest, the Supreme Court outlined a four-factor test:

  • Whether there is a “valid, rational connection” between the regulation and the legitimate governmental interest used to justify it;
  • Whether there are alternative means for the prisoner to exercise the right at issue;
  • The impact that the desired accommodation will have on guards, other inmates, and prison resources (so-called "ripple effects"); and
  • The absence of “ready alternatives.”

This test has been criticized by commentators as unnecessarily deferential, as over time the first "rational connection" criteria has dominated the test.[2][3]

Subsequent Developments[edit]

Turner has been cited as precedent and is now considered to be part of a fundamental right to marry. Along with cases like Loving v. Virginia, Zablocki v. Redhail, and Obergefell v. Hodges, the Court has declared a fundamental right to marriage under the Fourteenth Amendment.[4]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Cheryl Dunn Giles, Turner v. Safley and Its Progeny: A Gradual Retreat to the "Hands-Off" Doctrine, 35 Ariz. L. Rev. 219 (1993)

External links[edit]