Shaw v. Murphy - Wikipedia

Shaw v. Murphy
Argued January 16, 2001
Decided April 18, 2001
Full case nameRobert Shaw, et al. v. Kevin Murphy
Citations532 U.S. 223 (more)
121 S. Ct. 1475; 149 L. Ed. 2d 420; 2001 U.S. LEXIS 3205; 69 U.S.L.W. 4231; 2001 Cal. Daily Op. Service 3051; 2001 Daily Journal DAR 3755; 2001 Colo. J. C.A.R. 1984; 14 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 174
Case history
PriorThe district court denied declaratory and injunctive relief for the petitioner. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, Murphy v. Shaw, 195 F.3d 1121 (9th Cir. 1999); cert. granted, 530 U.S. 1303 (2000).
There is no First Amendment right for a prisoner to provide legal assistance to a fellow prisoner.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
David Souter · Clarence Thomas
Ruth Bader Ginsburg · Stephen Breyer
Case opinions
MajorityThomas, joined by unanimous
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. I

Shaw v. Murphy, 532 U.S. 223 (2001), is a decision of the United States Supreme Court rejecting the First Amendment right of prisoners to provide legal assistance to other prisoners.[1]


While incarcerated, Murphy learned that a fellow prisoner was charged with assaulting a correctional officer. Murphy authored a letter to the accused prisoner offering legal assistance in his defense. The letter was intercepted pursuant to prison regulations and was reviewed, at which point Murphy was sanctioned for violating the prison's rule against interference in due process hearing.

Procedural history[edit]

Murphy sought declaratory and injunctive relief from the district court, which applied the Supreme Court precedent from Turner v. Safley,[2] and ruled against the petitioner. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed the decision.[3] The Supreme Court granted certiorari.[4]

Opinion of the Court[edit]

Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Clarence Thomas found that the district court had correctly applied the Turner standard, which upheld regulatory impingements on the constitutional rights of prisoners where the regulation is reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest. Under Turner, prisoner communication may be monitored and regulated, and the content of the communication (i.e., the legal advice) makes no difference in the assessment of the legality of the regulation.

Ginsburg's concurrence[edit]

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her concurrence that the respondent argued on appeal before the Ninth Circuit that the regulation under which he was charged was vague and overbroad. Because the Ninth Circuit did not rule on the merits of that argument, Ginsburg argued that the remand for which the Court provided should not impede Murphy's ability to raise the issue of vagueness and overbreadth again.


  1. ^ Shaw v. Murphy, 532 U.S. 223 (2001).
  2. ^ Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987).
  3. ^ Murphy v. Shaw, 195 F.3d 1121 (9th Cir. 1999).
  4. ^ Shaw v. Murphy, 530 U.S. 1303 (2000).

External links[edit]