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SCOTUS Will Hear Arguments in Controversial Homelessness Case that Will Impact Cities Nationwide


Seattle – As homelessness hits all-time highs across the country, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments next Monday about whether the enforcement of generally applicable laws regulating camping on public property are constitutional. The case will determine how cities nationwide are allowed to respond to the crisis of homelessness.

“Homelessness rulings by the 9th Circuit have been disastrous and devastating to communities up and down the west coast,” said Discovery Institute Senior Fellow, Robert Marbut, former Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness under both the Trump and Biden administrations.

“The overturning of Grants Pass v. Johnson by the Supreme Court would be a great first step in taking back our lost inner cities,” said Marbut. “This in turn would clear the way for critical reforms like passing Housing PLUS into law which would re-purpose funding for much needed treatment of substance use disorders and untreated mental illness for people experiencing homelessness.”

Grants Pass, Oregon had a ban on public camping until a 2018 Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decision declared such laws a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment” and struck down the city’s law. Grants Pass appealed, and it is now up to the Supreme Court to decide.

According to Discovery Institute President, Steven J. Buri: “What is abundantly clear is this: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling — the current prevailing law — is untenable. It prevents communities from enforcing common sense protections against public harm.”

Discovery Institute contends that the government’s “Housing First” approach promotes “housing only,” which is exacerbating the national homelessness crisis. Cities and states need the freedom to address the root causes of homelessness like addiction and mental illness so that they might support organizations that are successfully and cost-effectively housing people.

“Right now, leaders across the political spectrum are uncharacteristically united, making this the best time to undo this damaging ruling and to pursue policies that are more effective and compassionate for homeless individuals and communities alike,” added Buri.

Discovery Institute’s Fix Homelessness initiative focuses on the root causes of homelessness and recommends policies that address those causes, not just surface needs. Discovery Institute is a non-profit educational and research organization whose mission is to advance a culture of purpose, creativity, and innovation with programs in areas such as economics, education, technology, bioethics, and artificial intelligence.

Center on Wealth & Poverty