Safe and Sanitary

You will, no doubt, remember that wonderful video of Justice Department attorney, Sarah Fabian, argued that “safe and sanitary” is too vague a term to include toothbrushes, soap, warmth, or sleep. No one who watched the video would be surprised that the court rejected the Justice Department’s position:

The district court’s interpretation of the [“safe and sanitary” provisions of the previous consent agreement] is consistent with the ordinary meaning of the language of paragraph 12A [of that agreement], which does provide a standard sufficiently clear to be enforced. The court found, among other things, that minors (1) were “not receiving hot, edible, or a sufficient number of meals during a given day,” (2) “had no adequate access to clean drinking water,” (3) experienced “unsanitary conditions with respect to the holding cells and bathroom facilities,” (4) lacked “access to clean bedding, and access to hygiene products (i.e., toothbrushes, soap, towels),” and (5) endured “sleep deprivation” as a result of “cold temperatures, overcrowding, lack of proper bedding (i.e., blankets, mats), [and] constant lighting.” After so finding, the district court concluded that these conditions fall short of paragraph 12A’s requirement that facilities be “safe and sanitary,” especially given “the particular vulnerability of minors.” Those determinations reflect a commonsense understanding of what the quoted language requires. Assuring that children eat enough edible food, drink clean water, are housed in hygienic facilities with sanitary bathrooms, have soap and toothpaste, and are not sleep deprived are without doubt essential to the children’s safety. The district court properly construed the Agreement as requiring such conditions rather than allowing the government to decide whether to provide them.

Slip op. at 13-14.

I have posted the opinion here.

3 thoughts on “Safe and Sanitary”

  1. Funny, but you’re no Jonathan Swift or Paul Krassner. This is because a satirical piece should not overexaggerate the object of its satire. Whereas one might almost believe that the British would eat Irish children or that Lyndon Johnson would have sexual intercourse with the bullet hole in Kennedy’s neck, no one could possibly believe that the U.S. government would spend taxpayers’ money (far more, no doubt, than the cost of soap and toothpaste) to have its lawyers argue in court that it need not provide the children it locks in cages with soap and toothpaste, let alone appeal a trial court’s negative decision. Nor is it credible that the appellate court would issue a serious opinion rather than writing simply, “Ha, ha. But please don’t waste the court’s time with frivolous appeals.”

  2. Leaving aside the willful cruelty of the practices she was ostensibly trying to defend, it was impossible to figure out exactly what her argument was. A few times she seemed to be saying that the fact that soap, for example, was necessary for conditions to be sanitary, was irrelevant to whether the practice of not providing soap violated the decree calling for safe and sanitary conditions.

    The whole thing really is a national disgrace, or worse.

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