then the Court must vacate the decrees, just as in Klein where the Supreme Court was directed to dismiss the suit if it was based on a presidential pardon. Furthermore, plaintiffs contend that Congress did not amend the applicable law because it lacked the authority to alter constitutional rights.
However, while Congress did not amend the substantive law with respect to permissible prison conditions, it did change the law governing the district court's remedial powers. Under the new law, courts must apply the same limitations on relief to consent judgments as to litigated judgments. This restriction is an obvious change. Prior to the PLRA, a court could enter a consent judgment as long as it is within the court's subject matter jurisdiction, comes generally within the scope of the pleadings and furthers the objectives of the law upon which the complaint is based. Local Number 93, Int'l Assoc. of Firefighters v. City of Cleveland, 478 U.S. 501, 525, 92 L. Ed. 2d 405, 106 S. Ct. 3063 (1986); see also id. at 525 ("Therefore, a federal court is not necessarily barred from entering a consent decree merely because the decree provides broader relief than the court could have awarded after trial."). Furthermore, the power to enter the decree carries with it the power to enforce the decree with relief that is broader than that which could be granted after trial. See Kozlowski v. Coughlin, 871 F.2d 241, 244 (2d Cir. 1989).
In Rufo, for example, where the consent decree addressed the appropriate remedy after the district court had found a constitutional violation, the Court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in entering the decree even though it provided more relief that "what a court would have ordered absent the settlement." Rufo, 502 U.S. at 389. The Court also held that when the changed circumstances warrant a modification of a consent decree, the court should not "strive to rewrite a consent decree to the constitutional floor." Id. at 391. Rather, the court should only address the changed circumstances and modify the decree "only to the extent that equity requires." Id. In contrast, the PLRA requires the court to vacate prison condition decrees or modify them to the constitutional floor.
Accordingly, since the PLRA "compel[s] changes in law, not findings or results under old law," Seattle Audubon, 503 U.S. at 438, it does not violate the separation-of-powers principles established in Klein.
C. Restrictions on Remedial Jurisdiction
Next plaintiffs argue that the PLRA divests courts of remedial jurisdiction to such a degree that the courts are no longer able effectively to vindicate constitutional rights. Article III, § 1 gives Congress the power to "ordain and establish" the lower federal courts and the Supreme Court has held that this clause gives Congress the authority to limit the jurisdiction of the district courts. However, plaintiffs cite several academic theorists and dicta in recent Supreme Court decisions for the proposition that Congress may not completely strip the lower courts of their enforcement powers.
The Supreme Court discussed the power of Congress to control the remedial jurisdiction of the lower federal courts in Lauf v. E.G. Shinner & Co., 303 U.S. 323, 82 L. Ed. 872, 58 S. Ct. 578 (1938). There the Court upheld the Norris-LaGuardia Act which denied federal courts jurisdiction to issue injunctions in labor disputes unless the court made particular findings of fact delineated in the statute. The Court held that "there can be no question of the power of Congress thus to define and limit the jurisdiction of the inferior courts of the United States." Id. at 330.
The Norris-LaGuardia Act is analogous to the PLRA and thus Lauf applies here. Under the PLRA prospective relief is only permitted if the court finds that a violation of a federal right exists and that the prospective relief "is narrowly drawn, extends no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right, and is the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right." 18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(1). As in Lauf, Congress has conditioned the exercise of a court's remedial jurisdiction on the existence of particular facts that must be demonstrated on the record.
In Lockerty v. Phillips, 319 U.S. 182, 87 L. Ed. 1339, 63 S. Ct. 1019 (1943), the Court reiterated the principles expressed in Lauf. Lockerty involved a challenge to the Emergency Price Control Act which assigned jurisdiction over disputes arising under that Act to the Emergency Court of Appeals and denied jurisdiction to any other court, state or federal. According to the Lockerty Court, "the Congressional power to ordain and establish inferior courts includes the power 'of investing them with jurisdiction either limited, concurrent, or exclusive, and of withholding jurisdiction from them in the exact degrees and character which to Congress may seem proper for the public good.'" Id. at 187 (citations omitted).
The Court need not enter the extensive academic debate surrounding the power of Congress to control the jurisdiction of the district courts, however, because it is clear that § 3626(b), the only section directly at issue here, preserves the Court's ability to enforce constitutional rights. Under § 3626(b)(3), a court may not vacate prospective relief if it finds on the record that constitutional violations exist and that the relief is appropriately tailored to remedy the violation. While seemingly cramped by the new legal standards in § 3626(a)(1) and the time constraints imposed in § 3626(e), it is nonetheless fair to say that courts will continue to define the scope of prisoners' constitutional rights, review the factual record, apply the judicially determined constitutional standards to the facts as they are found in the record and determine what relief is necessary to remedy the constitutional violations. Thus cases such as Webster v. Doe, 486 U.S. 592, 100 L. Ed. 2d 632, 108 S. Ct. 2047 (1988), and Johnson v. Robison, 415 U.S. 361, 39 L. Ed. 2d 389, 94 S. Ct. 1160 (1974), are inapplicable. In those decisions, the Supreme Court interpreted statutes to permit judicial review of constitutional claims in order to avoid the serious constitutional questions that would be raised if the statutes precluded such review.
While one might conclude from a reading of the legislative history that what Congress sought was to deny courts the power to enforce constitutional rights, another reader could conclude that Congress wanted to limit that relief to a minimum. As the House Report found:
The dictates of the provision [in § 3626(a)(1)] are not a departure from current jurisprudence concerning injunctive relief. "In granting injunctive relief, the court's remedy should be no broader than necessary to provide full relief to the aggrieved plaintiff." McLendon v. Continental Can Co., 908 F.2d 1171, 1182 (3d Cir. 1990) (citations omitted). This rule also applies to constitutional violations. See Milliken v. Bradley, 433 U.S. 267, 97 S. Ct. 2749, 2757, 53 L. Ed. 2d 745 (1977) (remedy must be related to the condition that offends the Constitution); Toussaint v. McCarthy, 801 F.2d 1080, 1086 (9th Cir. 1986) (injunctive relief must be "no broader than necessary to remedy the constitutional violation"), cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1069, 95 L. Ed. 2d 871, 107 S. Ct. 2462 (1987).