Governor Jerry Brown’s effort to meet federal court orders to improve health care for prisoners and reduce the prison population has received a thumbs down from a federal court panel, so Brown said he would appeal to the Unites States Supreme Court. The thinking here is that the governor has a decent shot at the high court agreeing that California has made sufficient advances to relieve the problem.

Some have pointed to the fact that the high court (by a narrow 5 to 4 vote) backed the district court panel when an appeal reached them in 2011. However, as the governor notes, the state has taken steps in the last two years to reduce the number of prisoners and improve prisoner health care. In fact, healthcare spending per inmate has doubled since the court mandate.

The governor’s attorneys can make some compelling arguments to the high court if the justices take the case.

Remember, too, the judges sitting on the 9th Circuit don’t have a stellar record when appeals go up to the Supreme Court. And, while partisanship and ideology should not be part of a court’s decision-making process, one cannot help but note that the Supreme Court has a majority of conservatives and the three-judge panel is made up of some of the more liberal federal jurists.

Dan Walters suggested that the governor’s appeal is a win-win situation for him. If the Supreme Court sides with the governor’s plan, he wins. If the court rejects the appeal and more prisoners have to be released to meet the panel’s requirements, then Walters says, the governor can blame the court for freeing prisoners.

While true as far as it goes, if indeed more prisoners have to be released and a crime increase results, pointing at the court will not satisfy the voters. They don’t get to vote for federal judges but they do get to vote for governor and could express their disapproval at the ballot box. In fact, whether the court rules in favor of Brown’s plan or not, the governor’s realignment plan shifting prisoners to counties and freeing prisoners to meet a goal for the number of prisoners will remain a political liability for him in California.

Still, because of the changed prison circumstances the governor identifies, the appeal to the Supreme Court could turn out differently this time.

UPDATE: The following correction was received from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: Realignment does not include “freeing prisoners”. It changed California’s sentencing laws so that only people convicted of crimes defined by the state’s Penal Code as serious, violent and or sex offenses would serve time in state prison. No one was transferred from prison and no one was released before their sentence was completed.