The California Department of Corrections (defendant) had an unwritten policy of racially segregating prisoners in double cells in reception centers for up to 60 days each time they entered a new correctional facility. Prison administrators claimed the policy was targeted toward preventing violence among racial gangs. Garrison Johnson (plaintiff) was a prisoner in a California facility. Johnson challenged the policy in federal district court on the grounds that it violated the Equal Protection Clause. The district court granted summary judgment for California. The court of appeals affirmed after applying a deferential standard of review to the policy, rather than strict scrutiny. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.