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Weil Seeks U.S. Supreme Court Review of Religious Liberty Case for Rastafarian Inmate in Louisiana

On May 3, 2024, Weil filed a petition for certiorari asking the Supreme Court to review an important case about religious freedom, prisoners’ rights, and racial justice. The case is Landor v. Louisiana Department of Corrections and Public Safety.

Weil represents Damon Landor, a devout Rastafarian who was imprisoned in Louisiana. When he arrived at the prison, he had dreadlocks almost down to his knees. A federal law – the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA – specifically protects the religious liberty of individuals held in state prison. And Landor had with him a copy of a court decision holding that RLUIPA gave him a right to continue wearing his locks as part of his religious exercise. But the guards threw the opinion in the trash, held Landor down, and shaved him bald.

Landor sued the guards when he was released (only three weeks later). The courts have consistently recognized that the guards grossly violated Landor’s rights. But thus far, they have denied Landor any relief. The Fifth Circuit court of appeals held that, although prison officials must respect inmates’ religious rights, RLUIPA does not allow a victim to recover damages from state officials who violate those rights. In essence, the court held that RLUIPA provides a right with no remedy.

Weil is now seeking Supreme Court review so that individuals nationwide can obtain damages under RLUIPA if an individual state officer violates their religious rights. The Fifth Circuit itself recognized the importance of the issue: Fifteen Fifth Circuit judges called for the Supreme Court to take the case, with nine judges emphasizing that that the question of whether damages are available is one “only the Supreme Court can answer.” An additional six judges dissented and urged that Landor should have had a remedy under the Supreme Court’s precedent. Numerous groups have also filed amicus briefs in support of Landor in the lower courts.

The pro bono Weil team representing Mr. Landor is led by Zack Tripp, Co-Head of Weil’s Appeals and Strategic Counseling practice, and includes associates Shai Berman and Natalie Howard. Weil is joined by Casey Denson of Casey Denson Law, LLC.  

Weil’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Mr. Landor was covered by The New York Times in an in-depth article, here.