State College man to argue case involving inmate rights
State College lawyer Andrew Shubin has an opportunity to do what most lawyers can only dream about: argue a case before the United States Supreme Court.
Shubin will be in Washington on March 27 to present arguments before the court in favor of upholding an appellate court decision that allows state prison inmates to read newspapers, magazines or view any other media for current events.
These inmates — hardened, “problem” inmates — are prohibited from reading any form of current events, which Shubin argues, is a violation of the First Amendment.
“They are among the most isolated inmates on the planet,” Shubin, 42, said. “They are virtually in a prison within a prison. They have no access to news or current events.
“The First Amendment clearly protects that, the right to receive information.”
In 2005,Shubin won a 2-1 decision in the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of the inmates, housed in the long-term segregation unit at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh. But attorneys for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, which it agreed to do in December.
In the appellate case, the lone dissent against the inmates was now-Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who Shubin said will have to recuse himself from the case because the justice essentially would be reviewing his own decision.
“There is a distinct possibility there will be a 4-4 tie, which will mean the appellate ruling will stand and the inmates will have won,” Shubin said.
The commonwealth argues prisons have the right to keep reading materials away from inmates to prevent them from using newspapers and such to hide weapons or sling bodily waste at guards. The prison system also argues that keeping these materials away from inmates can serve as motivation for them to behave.
Segregated inmates are allowed religious and legal materials.
While winning the case is foremost on his mind, Shubin admits he is excited for this opportunity, which rarely comes along for most lawyers.
“For an attorney, it’s an incredibly rare opportunity,” he said. “It’s probably going to be once in a lifetime. It’s been a wonderful experience so far, and a little bit scary. It’s been one of the highlights of my practice.”
Centre County attorney Terry J. Williams, a former president of the Centre County Bar Association, said, to the best of his knowledge, Shubin will be only the second county attorney to argue before the high court.
“That’s how rare it is,” Williams said.
In private practice since 1998, Shubin handles civil-rights cases, criminal defense, employment law, constitutional and political cases. He began practicing law with Mid-Penn Legal Services and worked on prisoners’ rights issues for the first five or six years of his legal career.
By Pete Bosak