US Supreme Court to hear arguments on legality of banning encampments on public land – JURIST

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The US Supreme Court announced Friday that it has granted certiorari in the case City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson, which challenges cities banning or heavily regulating encampments of unhoused people on public land under the 8th Amendment of the US Constitution’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.”

The case surrounds several parts of the Grants Pass Municipal Code, which include anti-sleeping, camping and park exclusion ordinances that plaintiffs claim criminalize their day-to-day survival as unhoused residents of a town with no US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-approved shelter for unhoused people. Several unhoused individuals brought the case in 2018 on behalf of “involuntarily homeless” people in Grants Pass.

In 2020, the US District Court for the District of Oregon Medford Division ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, stating that the current language of the municipal code violated the 8th Amendment. Grants Pass then appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which again ruled largely in favor of the plaintiffs in 2022, later amending the decision in 2023 while still largely ruling in favor of the plaintiffs. Grants Pass then petitioned for certiorari in the US Supreme Court, looking to overturn a key precedential case upon which prior rulings were based, Martin v. City of Boise.

The Supreme Court’s announcement comes as cities across the US have begun to crackdown on encampments of unhoused people on public land. In 2021, Los Angeles’ Mayor Eric Garcetti signed an anti-camping ordinance into law. This culminated in the eviction of a large encampment in Echo Park, with the city promising it had found “housing solutions” for the camp’s residents. However, later reports found that a year after the crackdown only 17 of 183 evicted have been placed in permanent housing. Despite this, California Governor Gavin Newsom began favoring a hardline approach to homelessness in California in 2022. Both the city of Los Angeles and Governor Newsom have filed amicus briefs in favor of the city of Grants Pass. Other similar raids and evictions have occurred in encampments across the US.

According to HUD’s 2023 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report, homelessness has increased across the US by 12 percent since 2022. The report estimates that at least 40 percent of those experiencing homelessness are living in uninhabitable places, including public parks and sidewalks. The current population of unhoused people is disproportionately made up of Black, Hispanic, Latino and Indigenous people. There was also a 7 percent increase in veterans experiencing homelessness since 2022.

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