UPDATES & ANALYSIS

1.21

Beard Update

by Ryan Leemkuil | January 21, 2015

By Ryan Leemkuil

Last month, the Eighth Circuit rejected Arkansas inmate Christopher Deaton’s request to grow a full-length beard for religious reasons.  As we noted then, Judge Colloton dissented, arguing that the panel should wait for the Supreme Court’s decision in Holt v. Hobbs, another beard case out of the Eighth Circuit.  Although Holt is a bit different (it involves an inmate’s “compromise” request for just a half-inch beard), Judge Colloton noted that the Supreme Court’s soon-to-come decision might give the Eighth Circuit some guidance in approaching the more robust beard at issue in Deaton.  And, as Judge Colloton noted, awaiting the outcome in Holt could save Mr. Deaton the burden of filing a cert. petition and waiting for the Supreme Court to vacate the Eighth Circuit’s decision and remand for further consideration in light of Holt.

Yesterday, just over a month after the Eighth Circuit rejected the beard request in Deaton, the Supreme Court held that Gregory Holt is entitled to grow a half-inch beard consistent with his religious beliefs.  It’d be tough, the Court thought, to stash contraband in such a short beard.  Wouldn’t the stuff just fall out?  And the prison lets inmates have hair on their heads; can’t they hide contraband there, too? The state’s concerns with the well-kept beard seemed overblown, so the no-beard policy had to give way to Holt’s religious exercise under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act (RLUIPA). 

But as Deaton teaches, beards come in all shapes and sizes.  Do the security concerns grow with the beard?  That’s the question now facing the Eighth Circuit after Holt.  And fortunately for Mr. Deaton, it doesn’t look like he’ll have to go to the Supreme Court (at least not yet) to pursue his case.   Late last month, he asked for more time to file a petition for rehearing.  The Court granted that request, so the Eighth Circuit should be able to reconsider Deaton (in light of Holt), without the rigmarole of a cert. petition and remand order. 

*Ryan Leemkuil is legal counsel at Fareway  Stores and before that was an attorney at Nyemaster Goode. 

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