SCOTUS Rules Cities Can Enforce Public Camping Bans

While pundits were parsing last night’s painful presidential debate, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision with enormous implications for local governments in California. 

In a 6-3 ruling, the justices determined that municipalities have a right to limit or prohibit homeless encampments on public property, and that enforcement of camping restrictions does not violate the Eighth Amendment's protections against cruel and unusual punishment.  

The decision in City of Grants Pass v. Johnson reverses the legal protections afforded to unhoused people by Martin v. Boise six years ago. It will grant municipalities much more power to clean up the homeless encampments that have become so ubiquitous in urban areas. Legal observers are calling it the most important court decision on homelessness in over four decades. 

“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,” Justice Neil Gorsuch said in his majority opinion.

In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor wrote that “for some people, sleeping outside is their only option” and that punishing them is “unconscionable and unconstitutional.”

The governor has responded to the ruling.

“This decision removes the legal ambiguities that have tied the hands of local officials for years…” – Gavin Newsom

This is a developing story. Stay tuned for more updates and reactions.