ACLU Pockets Hefty Award in Alabama Prison Case

Good news -- Alabama taxpayers have been dunned only $1.3 million by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which sued to end the segregation of HIV-positive inmates in the state prison system.

It’s good news because the ACLU wanted $2.4 million for its successful litigation forcing prison officials to place inmates who have a communicable, fatal illness in proximity with inmates who don’t.

Taxpayers also had to pay a private law firm, Maynard, Cooper & Gale, another $1.76 million to defend the state against the ACLU’s class-action suit, according to

In December 2012, U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson issued a 152-page ruling against Alabama’s Department of Corrections, ordering it to integrate HIV-positive inmates with other inmates. Separating the inmates, the judge said, violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The state and the ACLU have been wrangling over legal fees ever since, with the ACLU finally agreeing to accept $1.3 million, which includes fees of $195 per hour for ACLU attorney visits to the prisons. 

The opinion, which plays down the prevalence of prison rape, dismisses the idea that lifting the policy would increase the risk of spreading HIV.

Parts of the opinion read like drafts from a Marxist professor’s lecture to a college LGBT Studies class. Judge Thompson blamed the prison policy on animus toward homosexuals, minorities, and the poor:

“First, HIV is most frequently found among historically marginalized populations: particularly, gay men. Prejudice against homosexuals intensifies prejudice against HIV, and prejudice against HIV becomes a proxy for prejudice against members of the gay community.

“Because HIV is also more common among minorities and the poor, the stigma attached to HIV deeply implicates race and class prejudice, as well as homophobia.”

Merely connecting the dots from high-risk behavior to incidence of infections is enough to get your character assailed in Judge Thompson’s court. 

A statement issued by the Department of Corrections said that officials tried to resolve the case multiple times with the ACLU "to avoid the cost and expense of a lengthy trial" but that “[u]nfortunately, the ACLU refused to respond to the department's requests until after the parties had incurred substantial expenses to avoid trial.”

Maynard, Cooper & Gale is also defending the state against a Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) lawsuit that claims Alabama's inmates are getting substandard health care.  

Correctional health care firm Corizon is paying the legal fees in that case, thanks to a provision in its $224 million contract with the state, according to, the state has ponied up a total of $1.86 million in taxpayer money to fight prison lawsuits over the past four years.

In August, Judge Thompson sided with the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and another abortion provider and issued a 172-page ruling that overturned an Alabama law requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The judge said it could close several clinics and thereby pose an “undue burden” on women who want abortions.

The Alabama Women’s Health and Safety Act of 2013 was signed by Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, an M.D. who decried the ruling:

"Abortion is a fundamental assault on the sanctity of innocent human life, and I believe that it should only be done as a last possible effort to save the life of the mother," Bentley said in a statement. "As a doctor, I firmly believe that medical procedures, including abortions, performed in Alabama should be done in the safest manner possible. This law ensures that if a complication arises there is continuity of treatment between doctor and patient.  This ruling significantly diminishes those important protections.”

Judge Thompson was appointed in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter, illustrating yet again that elections can have long-term consequences.

Robert Knight is a Senior Fellow for the American Civil Rights Union.