Supreme Court Rules 6-3 Against Right to Camp on Public Property

The Supreme Court recently handed down a decision in the case of City of Grants Pass vs. Johnson, ruling 6-3 that homeless individuals do not have a constitutional right to camp on public property. Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority, made it clear that this issue falls within the purview of lawmakers, not judges. He emphasized that homelessness is a complex issue with various causes, necessitating public policy responses crafted by elected officials accountable to the people.

The lawsuit in question was brought by two homeless individuals from Grants Pass, OR, challenging the city’s ordinance prohibiting camping on public property. The plaintiffs argued that the ordinance violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment” due to the potential fines or jail time imposed for repeat offenses. However, the Court rejected the argument that the ordinance criminalized homelessness, noting that it applied to actions rather than status. 


One key aspect of the case was the Ninth Circuit ruling in Martin vs. Boise, which held that anti-camping ordinances could not be enforced without sufficient shelter options for the homeless. The Supreme Court’s decision effectively nullified this ruling, signaling a shift away from allowing local governments to be hindered in addressing homelessness.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor voiced a strong dissent, emphasizing the necessity of sleep and criticizing the penalization of individuals for being homeless. She argued that punishing individuals for their status is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. However, the majority decision aims to prevent the spread of problematic rulings like Martin vs. Boise and protect communities from misguided policies that could harm law-abiding citizens.

Overall, the Supreme Court’s ruling upholds the authority of local governments to regulate public spaces while maintaining a balance between addressing homelessness and ensuring public safety. This decision serves as a significant development in addressing the ongoing challenges related to homelessness across the nation.

Written by Staff Reports

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