Release Date: January 5, 2024
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

Bookmark and Share

At its conference on January 12, the U. S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a broadly supported appeal challenging a federal appeals court ruling that blocks the enforcement of anti-camping ordinances in nine western states. Several states and cities in the Ninth Circuit, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, have joined the City of Grants Pass, Oregon, in seeking to overturn a 2019 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling (Martin v. City of Boise), which effectively gave the homeless an Eighth Amendment right to camp on public property. The ruling covers the nine western states in the Ninth Circuit which includes Alaska, Washington, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, California, Arizona, and Hawaii. In 2019, the U. S. Supreme Court declined to hear a similar appeal from the City of Boise to review and overturn that ruling.

In 2023, the City of Grants Pass appealed a federal judge’s ruling that cited Martin as requiring him to strike down local ordinances prohibiting camping on public property. Following in July, a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit upheld the judge’s order. The case is City of Grants Pass v. Johnson.

In addition to the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation (CJLF), several other organizations have submitted amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs in support of the City of Grants Pass. Among them are the Speaker of the Arizona House and the President of the Arizona Senate, the League of Oregon Cities, the California State Association of Counties, the League of California Cities, the Association of Idaho Cities, and the states of Idaho, Montana, Missouri, West Virginia, Mississippi, Virginia, Utah, Louisiana, Texas, Kansas, South Dakota, Indiana, South Carolina, Florida, Oklahoma, Arkansas, North Dakota, Alaska, Nebraska, and Alabama.

The CJLF brief, authored by Legal Director Kent Scheidegger, notes that the Eighth Amendment was adopted to bar the cruel and unusual punishment of convicted criminals, which has nothing to do with cities and counties enforcing municipal ordinances to regulate camping on public land. The brief also points out that the Ninth Circuit’s Martin ruling is in direct conflict with the California Supreme Court’s 1995 decision in Tobe v. Santa Ana (won by CJLF). The Tobe court rejected the same Eighth Amendment theory that the Ninth Circuit adopted. This is precisely the kind of conflict that the U. S. Supreme Court was created to settle.

While acknowledging the serious negative impact that the current level of homelessness is causing in virtually every American city, the CJLF brief leaves extensive argument on this impact to the twenty-two other briefs representing the cities, counties, and states attempting to deal with the problem.

“The catastrophic damage inflicted on communities within the Ninth Circuit will certainly spread to the other circuits if the Supreme Court fails to address the unlawful expansion of the Eighth Amendment by Martin and the earlier rulings that enabled it,” said Scheidegger.

CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger is available for comment at (916) 446-0345.