WASHINGTON — The latest chapter in the debate over the Eighth Amendment unfolded Monday as the nation’s chief justices heard arguments about whether being forced to dance for thirty consecutive hours constitutes “cruel and unusual” punishment.
The case, Charleston et al. vs. Joseph, was brought forward by plaintiffs Michael Charleston, currently incarcerated in an Illinois prison, and his cellmates, who claim to have been forced to dance for thirty straight hours with only limited breaks. The incident gained national exposure after coming to the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union, who have repeatedly stated a desire to “ensure that such torturous treatment of humans never again occurs within our borders.”
Charleston and the ACLU claim that dancing for so long is both “degrading to human dignity” and “patently unnecessary,” thereby meeting two of the principles outlined in 1972 landmark case Furman v. Georgia that would render the punishment “cruel and unusual.”
In addition to being forced to dance in a “stifling and dark tent with loud music and a claustrophobic number of sweaty prisoners,” the plaintiffs were tasked with raising several hundred dollars by soliciting strangers while wearing “humiliating” bibs.
Despite Charleston’s testimony, President Obama had the solicitor general file an amicus brief supporting the defendant, Peter D. Joseph. Furthermore, the justices’ choice of questions to the lawyers present have been interpreted by experts as hints that the Court will rule in Joseph’s favor.
Justice Ginsberg began the hearing by asking whether “the money [went] to a good cause?” and Justice Breyer questioned, “To what extent can the plaintiffs be considered heroes?”
Most damning for the inmates, however, was a fierce round of questioning from Justice Scalia. Scalia’s probing queries revealed that the prisoners were not forced to dance; rather, they volunteered.
As usual, Justice Thomas did not speak during the proceedings, but reporters claimed to hear him muttering “Go ‘Cats!” as he left the court room.