Supreme Court Rules Local Governments Can Cite or Arrest People Living on Public Land

L.A. Mayor Bass Slams Supreme Court's Ruling

L.A. Mayor Bass Slams Supreme Court's Ruling

By Stephen Hadland

Culver City Observer Editor & Publisher

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit cities from criminalizing sleeping outdoors.

City of Grants Pass v. Johnson began when a small city in Oregon with just one homeless shelter began enforcing a local anti-camping law against people sleeping in public using a blanket or any other rudimentary protection against the elements – even if they had nowhere else to go.

The court confronted this question: Is it unconstitutional to punish homeless people for doing in public things that are necessary to survive, such as Sleeping, when there is no option to do these acts in private?

In a 6-3 decision written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the court said no. It rejected the claim that criminalizing sleeping in public by those with nowhere to go violates the Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. In my view, the decision – which I see as disappointing but not surprising – will not lead to any reduction in homelessness, and will certainly result in more litigation.

In today's decision, the court rejected the city's invitation to overrule the 1962 Robinson decision and eliminate the prohibition on criminalizing status, but denied that being homeless is a status. Instead, the court agreed with the city that camping or sleeping in public are activities, not statuses, despite the plaintiffs' evidence that for homeless people, there is no difference between criminalizing "being homeless" and criminalizing "sleeping in public."

Increasing homelessness, especially its visible manifestations such as tent encampments, has frustrated city residents, businesses and policymakers across the U.S. and led to an increase in crackdowns against homeless people. Reports from the National Homelessness Law Center in 2019 and 2021 have tallied hundreds of laws restricting camping, sleeping, sitting, lying down, panhandling and loitering in public.

Culver City First Responders all agree that the majority of the populations in Homeless encampments are seriously mentally ill and / or drug addicted and need skilled intervention.

We want to stand as defenders of our vagrancy laws and will fight to hold them up in court if necessary. If our city council settles with a plaintiff to nullify our vagrancy laws, we can say goodbye to our safe & clean streets.

Speakers before the Culver City City Council have reported homeless taking over their home property during the day, drug use, urinating and defecating in the streets and sidewalks in their neighborhoods.

Culver City laws prohibit setting up tents or other makeshift shelters in certain public places, such as parks, streets, sidewalks, schools and government property. It also prevents storage of certain items, such as personal property, cots, beds, and hammocks, in those public places.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass issued the following statement "Today's decision is not surprising given the make-up of the Court but disappointing nonetheless. This ruling must not be used as an excuse for cities across the country to attempt to arrest their way out of this problem or hide the homelessness crisis in neighboring cities or in jail. Neither will work, neither will save lives and that route is more expensive for taxpayers than actually solving the problem.

"The only way to address this crisis is to bring people indoors with housing and supportive services. In the City of Los Angeles, we will continue leading with this approach, which helped move thousands more Angelenos inside last year than the year before. We cannot go backwards – we must continue innovating and moving with intention and urgency until every person experiencing homelessness is able to access housing, services and support."

The case originated after Grants Pass, Oregon began issuing fines over $200 to people sleeping in public due to a lack of accessible shelter beds. For multiple violations, people experiencing homelessness would face threat of incarceration.


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