Sunday 30 June 2024

SCOTUS Rules In Favor Of Oregon City’s Ban On Homeless Encampments

 The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 on Friday that an Oregon city’s law restricting camping on public property does not violate the Constitution’s prohibition against enacting cruel and unusual punishments under the Eighth Amendment. 

Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch said that the courts did not have the right to strike down laws enacted by the city of Grants Pass in response to the homelessness crisis. Gorsuch was joined by Justices Brett Kavanaugh, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Amy Coney Barrett, with Clarence Thomas writing a concurring opinion. 

“The Constitution’s Eighth Amendment serves many important functions, but it does not authorize federal judges to wrest those rights and responsibilities from the American people and in their place dictate this Nation’s homelessness policy,” Gorsuch wrote. 

Previously, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Grants Pass could not enforce its restrictions on sleeping on public property if the number of publicly available beds for the homeless was less than the number of homeless estimated in the area. The city’s laws, including fines of $295 for sleeping on public property, were challenged under the Eighth Amendment on behalf of a group of homeless people in the area. 

“Yes, people will disagree over which policy responses are best; they may experiment with one set of approaches only to find later another set works better; they may find certain responses more appropriate for some communities than others,” Gorsuch wrote. “But in our democracy, that is their right. 

“Nor can a handful of federal judges begin to ‘match’ the collective wisdom the American people possess in deciding ‘how best to handle’ a pressing social question like homelessness,” he added. 

Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ketanji Brown Jackson, and Elena Kagan all dissented. 

“Sleep is a biological necessity, not a crime. For some people, sleeping outside is their only option,” Sotomayor wrote. “For people with no access to shelter, that punishes them for being homeless. That is unconscionable and unconstitutional.”


Grants Pass Mayor Sara Bristol told the Associated Press she was grateful for the court’s decision. 

“This lawsuit was about whether cities have a right to enforce camping restrictions in public spaces, and I’m relieved that Grants Pass will be able to reclaim our city parks for recreation,” she said. “Homelessness is a complex issue, and our community has been trying to find solutions.”

Cities across the country have grappled with how to handle increasing homelessness in recent years, with an estimated 582,000 homeless in 2022.

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