Release Date: April 18, 2024
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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The U. S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a broadly supported appeal challenging a ruling that blocks the enforcement of anti-camping ordinances in nine western states. Several states and cities in the Ninth Circuit 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 2020, 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. In July 2023, a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit upheld the judge’s order. The case is City of Grants Pass v. Johnson.

This case has attracted an unusual amount of interest. In addition to the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation (CJLF), 35 other persons and organizations have submitted amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs in support of the City of Grants Pass. Among them are a group of 24 states, numerous local governments and organizations of governments, state and federal legislators, and organizations seeking to help people rise out of homelessness and the mental and addictive conditions that contribute to it.

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 conflicts with the a 2020 decision by the U. S. Supreme Court in which it endorsed a contrary interpretation of the main precedent in this case.

The current level of homelessness is causing a serious negative impact in virtually every American city. These issues, and how the Ninth Circuit decisions hinder a positive response, are addressed in the briefs of the local governments and service organizations.

“The intractable problems of homelessness and related conditions are not helped by the unrealistic restrictions imposed by the Ninth Circuit on the pretense of enforcing the Eighth Amendment. The catastrophic damage to communities will spread nationwide unless the Supreme Court corrects the absurd misinterpretation in the Martin and Grants Pass decisions,” said Scheidegger.

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