Supreme Court Seems Receptive To Laws That Allow Restrictions On Homeless

On Monday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments over a challenge to a law allowing cities to fine homeless people, potentially changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that cities cannot ticket homeless people for camping in public when there are no alternative shelters available. However, the municipalities backing the suit want that opinion overturned.

City and town officials argue that the restrictions prevent them from implementing “common sense” laws against camping in certain public places. In contrast, homeless advocates say that an overturn could effectively criminalize homeless people’s existence. The city of Grants Pass, Oregon, is leading the suit.

The town’s attorney said blocking the law has “made it impossible for cities to address growing encampments.”

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“And they’re unsafe, unhealthy and problematic for everyone, especially those who are experiencing homelessness,” lawyer Theane Evangelis said.

The case centers on the Eighth Amendment, with homeless advocates arguing that ticketing people without homes qualifies as “cruel and unusual punishment.”

“For years, political leaders have chosen to tolerate encampments as an alternative to meaningfully addressing the western region’s severe housing shortage,” attorneys representing the city’s homeless population wrote to the county in January.

The mayors of San Francisco and Phoenix, as well as 20 Republican attorneys general from around the country, also encouraged the Supreme Court to hear the case.

The court’s supermajority of conservative justices appeared sympathetic to the laws restricting homelessness, while the liberal justices appeared firmly opposed. A ruling is expected by late June.

Ava Lombardi

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