BREAKING: Supreme Court rules cities can ban camping on public streets

The justices ruled 6-3 on the matter, saying it was not "cruel and unusual punishment" to prevent public camping.

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

The Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision on Friday that cities can legally remove homeless people camping on public property. The Ninth Circuit’s decision in the case was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Delivering the opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that 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 judgment below is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

The case related to the city of Grants Pass, Oregon, which had in place public camping laws restricting encampments on public property. The Ninth Circuit had ruled that "the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause bars cities from enforcing public-camping ordinances like these against homeless individuals whenever the number of homeless individuals in a jurisdiction exceeds the number of 'practically available' shelter beds."

Gorsuch wrote that "Grants Pass’s public-camping ordinances do not criminalize status. The public-camping laws prohibit actions undertaken by any person, regardless of status. It makes no difference whether the charged defendant is currently a person experiencing homelessness, a backpacker on vacation, or a student who abandons his dorm room to camp out in protest on the lawn of a municipal building. Because the public-camping laws in this case do not criminalize status, Robinson is not implicated."

The ruling in the case of Robinson v California, from 1962, stated that under the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause, the state could not enforce a law stating that no person shall "be addicted to the use of narcotics." 

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