Supreme Court to Hear Most Significant Case About Homelessness in Decades

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on January 12 that it will hear Johnson v. City of Grants Pass, a case that will determine whether people experiencing homelessness have a constitutional right to camp on public property when they do not have a place to sleep. The Supreme Court will decide whether laws regulating camping on public property constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.

A 2018 ruling from the Ninth Circuit – Martin v. City of Boise – found that, under the Eighth Amendment, cities cannot punish people experiencing homelessness for breaking anti-camping ordinances if there are no available shelter beds. As a result of the ruling, communities in the nine states under the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction face legal challenges and greater scrutiny when they clear encampments and are pressured, instead, to focus on long-term housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness.

Johnson v. Grants Pass is a court case originally filed in 2018 that determined that it is cruel and unusual punishment to ticket or arrest people for sleeping outside when they have no other safe option. A federal judge and Ninth Circuit panel struck down an anti-camping ordinance enacted in Grants Pass, Oregon, because the city did not have adequate shelter. The ruling affirmed the holding of Martin v. City of Boise. The city lost an appeal for the full Ninth Circuit to reconsider that ruling and then petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case.

The Supreme Court may hear arguments in the case in April and issue a ruling by the end of June.

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