Concluding that jail and juvenile facility overcrowding during the COVID-19 pandemic is not amenable to judicial resolution on a statewide basis, the Supreme Court this morning denied the writ petition — filed 10 days ago — in National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers v. Newsom.  The petition sought the release of enough detainees in county jails and juvenile facilities throughout California “to ensure that all remaining persons are held under conditions consistent with CDC and public health guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including appropriate social distancing.”

But the court recognizes that the health concerns are real and makes its denial of the petition “without prejudice to the institution of actions raising similar claims against these respondents [the Governor and state Attorney General] or other officials or entities in the superior courts of appropriate counties.”  The court also expressly leaves open the possibility, “[g]iven the dynamic nature of the pandemic,” of “the filing of a new petition in this court raising similar claims if circumstances warrant.”

The court acknowledges that, as of Saturday, there have been 53,616 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 2,138 deaths in California, and it notes that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “issued guidance observing that conditions in correctional and detention facilities present ‘unique challenges for control of COVID-19 transmission among incarcerated/detained persons, staff, and visitors.’ ”

But, the court says, because “current conditions in detention facilities with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic are not uniform throughout the state,” and because the petition provided evidence regarding facilities in only 15 of California’s 58 counties, “[t]he issues raised in the petition call for prompt attention in a manner that considers the diversity of local conditions throughout the state.”

The court directs superior courts “to proceed as expeditiously as possible and to be mindful that conditions associated with COVID-19 in detention facilities and local communities are continually evolving.”  It also tells those courts to “be mindful of a range of procedural tools to achieve prompt and effective resolution of the matter,” tools including the ability to “transfer and consolidate matters across counties” and to “facilitate discussion among all parties to achieve a negotiated resolution that is responsive to local conditions and avoids protracted litigation.”

The petition tried to avoid the type of order the Supreme Court made today.  It said, “By the time the lower courts could issue relief necessary to remedy ongoing constitutional violations, and those orders could be reviewed by the appellate courts, hundreds or thousands of incarcerated people and staff will have contracted the disease.”

[Update:  The order, signed only by the Chief Justice, is here.]