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U.S. Supreme Court sides with Oregon city, allows ban on homeless people sleeping outdoors


WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court Friday sided with a local ordinance in Oregon that effectively bans homeless people from sleeping outdoors, and local governments will be allowed to enforce those laws.

In a 6-3 decision, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the opinion that the enforcement of those local laws that regulate camping on public property does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

“Homelessness is complex. Its causes are many. So may be the public policy responses required to address it,” he wrote. “The Constitution’s Eighth Amendment serves many important functions, but it does not authorize federal judges to wrest those rights and responsibilities from the American people and in their place dictate this Nation’s homelessness policy.”

The case originated in Grants Pass, a city in Oregon that argued its ordinance is a solution to the city’s homelessness crisis, which includes fines and potential jail time for repeat offenders who camp or sleep outdoors.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissent arguing that the ordinance targets the status of being homeless and is therefore a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

“Grants Pass’s Ordinances criminalize being homeless,” she wrote. “The Ordinances’ purpose, text, and enforcement confirm that they target status, not conduct. For someone with no available shelter, the only way to comply with the Ordinances is to leave Grants Pass altogether.”

During oral arguments, the justices seemed split over ideological lines, with the conservative justices siding with the town in Oregon, arguing that policies and ordinances around homelessness are complex, and should be left up to local elected representatives rather than the courts.

The liberal justices criticized the city’s argument that homelessness is not a status protected under the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. The liberal justices argued the Grants Pass ordinance criminalized the status of being homeless.

The Biden administration took the middle ground in the case, and U.S. Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler offered partial support.

“It’s the municipality’s determination, certainly in the first instance with a great deal of flexibility, how to address the question of homelessness,” he said during oral arguments in late April.


In Florida, state Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orange County decried the ruling in a written statement.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has basically ruled that it is OK to punish poor people for being poor. This is a devastating ruling that ignores the reality of homelessness in America,” she said.

“We will continue to do what we can at a local and state level to push back against the criminalization of our fellow Americans who deserve evidence based interventions, not incarceration. We will also advocate for additional dollars to be allocated towards both homelessness and long-term housing affordability projects.”

The ruling constitutes “a clear and direct attack on Americans’ Eighth Amendment rights protecting us from excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment, Democratic Florida U.S. Rep. Maxwell said in a written statement.

“How can this court believe that folks who do not even have enough money to feed themselves or keep a roof over their heads will be able to pay fines for sleeping outside?” Frost wondered

“This is an attack on the poor and a direct and immediate failure of leaders in our federal, state, and local governments who have refused to act in support of housing affordability and have instead perpetuated policies that widen the income gap and keep working people down.

“Millions of Americans are one missed paycheck away from becoming houseless — that’s not their failure — it is the failure of our government and society for turning our backs on our people when they needed it most.”

Florida state Rep. Sam Garrison, a Republican from Fleming Island, sponsored similar legislation here, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed in March. The ruling was “a victory for common sense and judicial restraint,” Garrison said.

“Florida has chosen to reject comfortable inaction and tackle this problem head on. That is our right, and our obligation. We will continue to work with all 67 counties in our state to support innovative solutions that simultaneously protect public spaces and respect the dignity of every human being,” he said.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Michael Moline for questions: info@floridaphoenix.com. Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and X.


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