The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) requires prisons to make accommodations to regulations that substantially burden a prisoner’s religious exercise, unless the prison can show that the regulation is the least restrictive means to meeting a compelling interest. This language suggests strict scrutiny, and yet in Cutter v. Wilkinson, the Supreme Court instead intimated in dicta that courts should give prison officials “due deference” when applying this test. The 2015 case of Holt v. Hobbs presented the Court with an opportunity to clarify how much deference is due under RLUIPA. Though Holt declared that there should not be “unquestioning” deference toward prison officials, the decision failed to mention Cutter or draw clear lines. Questions about the viability of Cutter’s due deference standard thus persist. This Note provides the first comprehensive analysis of the application of RLUIPA post-Holt by presenting a qualitative and quantitative analysis of all lower court cases addressing RLUIPA accommodations from 2015 to 2017. This analysis shows that, while some confusion remains, the lower courts are moving towards a hard look analysis rather than deference. At the same time, this Note argues that Cutter was not overruled and that Holt in fact clarified Cutter to provide guidelines for the appropriate amount of scrutiny to be applied in a penal context.
Deference and Prisoner Accommodations Post-Holt: Moving RLUIPA Toward "Strict in Theory, Strict in Fact",
Nw. U. L. Rev.