Grants Pass, Oregon – The U.S. Supreme Court is set to examine a significant decision by the 9th Circuit Court. This decision stated that Grants Pass, Oregon, was wrong to give tickets to homeless people for sleeping outside.
Court already challenged the City of Grants Pass actions
In 2020, the U.S. District Court in Medford made this decision, and the 9th Circuit Court agreed in 2022. They said that Grants Pass can’t give tickets or arrest people for sleeping outside, or for using things like sleeping bags to keep warm, unless the city offers them a different place to stay that’s easy to access.
The courts decided that if the city didn’t offer another option, it would be unfairly harsh and unusual, breaking the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Ed Johnson, a lawyer with the Oregon Law Center who represents the homeless people of Grants Pass, explained that for many years, courts have said you can’t punish people just for their situation. He mentioned a 1962 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court (Robinson v. California). In that case, the Court said a California law that made being addicted to drugs a crime was unfairly harsh and unusual.
“The famous line (in that ruling) is ‘even one day in jail for having a common cold is a cruel and unusual punishment,'” he said. “This (Johnson v. Grants Pass) is that case this is criminalizing someone’s status and even one day in jail for someone who is just trying to exist and survive outside is cruel and unusual punishment.”
The decision by the 9th Circuit Court impacts many western U.S. states including Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. It has led to lots of responses from different western counties and cities, as well as from California’s Governor, Gavin Newsom.
These cities argue that the decision makes it hard for them to handle homeless camps. They now have to show that there are other places for homeless people to stay before they can stop people from camping in public. However, cities can still set rules about when and where camping is allowed, and many cities have already done this.
The City of Grants Pass defends the decision
Lawyers for Grants Pass say this ruling takes away an important way for the city to deal with a big problem.
Theane Evangelis, a lawyer at Gibson Dunn, argued that the ruling actually harms those it aims to help. Allowing people to stay in camps and creating a right to camp, as the 9th Circuit has done, is cruel, she says. She believes the decision is making things worse instead of better.
The Supreme Court plans to look at this case in April.
Chris Shortell, a political science professor at Portland State University, thinks that the Supreme Court taking this case probably means they will change the decision. He believes that the Supreme Court will probably decide in favor of Grants Pass. This would let cities deal with bigger homeless camps in their own ways.
He also mentioned that the large number of amici briefs, which are documents from various groups interested in the case, might have influenced the Supreme Court to take up this case.