SCOTUS weighs Grants Pass’ power to enforce homeless camping ordinance

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  The Supreme Court on Monday is weighing the constitutionality of whether cities, specifically in the western United States can criminalize sleeping or camping in public places when a person has nowhere else to go.

According to an NBC News report, the court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, will review an appeals court ruling that said several ordinances enacted by the city of Grants Pass, are prohibited under the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment.

Martin v. Boise and Grants Pass v. Johnson have prevented cities from punishing people for sleeping in public spaces when they have nowhere else to go, like a low barrier shelter.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a re-hearing of the case last year.

This comes after the court ruled against the City of Grants Pass in 2022.

The ruling ordered the City of Grants Pass to cease enforcing its ban on homeless people sleeping on public property.

If SCOTUS overturns the decision, it could reshape how cities throughout the west approach homelessness, regardless of if there are shelters available or not.

Ed Johnson, the lead counsel for the respondents in the case, said it hinges on whether cities should be able to prioritize criminalization over solutions.

Johnson said, “criminalization of our neighbors that have been forced to live outside, is not a solution. It’s very expensive, it wastes limited resources.”

Grants Pass City Attorney Augustus Ogu said, “in effect, the federal courts have wrestled control away from local cities to deal with homelessness in their own individual ways and it’s something that probably needs to be dealt with through the democratic process.”

Johnson said every court that has heard the case has ruled against Grants Pass so far.

Although the case is being heard Monday, the Supreme Court ruling wouldn’t be expected until June or July.

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