First oral arguments in Grants Pass Supreme Court case

GRANTS PASS, Ore. – The city of Grants Pass argued its case in front of the Supreme Court Monday, its the case that has cities all over the country watching closely, even San Diego joined the case. It’s about the city’s homeless issue.

The Supreme Court case is regarding the criminalization of sleeping in public spaces and Monday marked the first oral arguments in our nation’s highest court. Ed Johnson, the Director of Litigation at the Oregon Law Center said,

“I’ve never had a case that has ended up in the Supreme Court like this case did. You know, it didn’t happen overnight. I started looking at this case in 2017.”

The city of Grants Pass has been locked in a legal struggle for years on whether or not it can criminalize public sleeping in the city. Johnson said,

“We were starting hear from people who were being awakened in the middle of the night and told there was no place in town they were allowed to be. Then we started learning about the $300 tickets that people were getting, and people were being arrested and taken to jail for criminal trespass.”

In 2018, Johnson filed a lawsuit against the city of Grants Pass, saying there was no low barrier shelter for people to find relief from the elements. The court ruled against the city in 2022 and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a re-hearing of the case last year, but now the case has gained the Supreme Court Justice’s attention and what was intended to be an hour of oral arguments became two-and-a-half hours.

Johnson said,

“The government cannot punish someone based on their status and that’s the ruling that has really been precedent in the Supreme Court for more than 60 years.”

While Johnson said every court that’s heard the case has ruled against Grants Pass so far, he acknowledges several cities across the country have sided with the city of Grants Pass.

Johnson said,

“They’re concerned that the tools that they have to address the homelessness crisis will be taken away from them. But they won’t be taken away from them in this case; this case is only about one specific form of punishment and that is making it illegal on every inch of land, 24 hours a day, when people have nowhere else to go.”

Julie Akins, Senior Housing Director at Allcare Health, which advocates for affordable housing as a driving solution to homelessness, has been following the case closely for some time.

“Our area, Grants Pass in particular, is ground zero for this case. And part of the reason that happened is because we live in rural communities where there has not been enough funding and where we have pretty strict zoning restrictions around where we can build housing and so these communities have not been able to keep up with the need for housing.”

Akins said this case on a basic level, is about one’s rights and needs. And she said sleep is a human need and that the main problem is that many people have no where they can go.

“I don’t believe that anyone really wants to live in a park, in a tent, in the rain, in the freezing cold of Grants Pass or any northwest city and so we just need to house them.”

Ed Johnson said that the decision is likely to be expected in June or July.

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Maximus Osburn is a reporter for NBC5 News. He studied at California State University-Northridge, graduating with a degree in Broadcasting. Maximus is an avid martial arts enthusiast and combat sports fan. He even traveled to Thailand to train with martial arts experts. Maximus loves movies, nature, and doing things outside his comfort zone, like swimming in sub-freezing lakes in the winter.
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