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Case Basics
Docket No. 
Garrison S. Johnson
California, et al.
(argued the cause for Petitioner, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae)
(argued the cause for Petitioner)
(argued the cause for Respondent)
Facts of the Case 

California prisoner Garrison Johnson alleged in federal district court that the California Department of Corrections used race to assign temporary cell mates for new prisoners. Johnson alleged this violated the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause. The district court and a federal appellate court ruled against Johnson. The appellate court pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1987 decision in Turner v. Safley, which said a relaxed standard - as opposed to a "strict scrutiny" standard - should be used to determine whether prison regulations are constitutional. The prison's policies were "reasonably related to the administrators' concern for racial violence and thus must be upheld," the appellate court wrote.


Is a state's practice of temporary racial segregation of state prisoners subject to strict scrutiny?

Decision: 6 votes for Johnson, 2 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Equal Protection

Yes. In a 5-3 opinion delivered by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the Court held that prison racial-segregation policies are subject to strict scrutiny. The Court rejected the claim that because the policy was "neutral" - because all prisoners were "equally" segregated - the policy was not subject to strict scrutiny. Racial classifications must receive strict scrutiny even when they may be said to affect the races equally. The Court remanded the case so that the Ninth Circuit could use strict scrutiny to review the policy. Justices John Paul Stevens, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia dissented.

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JOHNSON v. CALIFORNIA. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 26 August 2015. <>.
JOHNSON v. CALIFORNIA, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 26, 2015).
"JOHNSON v. CALIFORNIA," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 26, 2015,