CAMAS, WA – On Friday, January 12, the Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari in City of Grants Pass v. Johnson. This welcomed announcement comes as Western cities like Portland, Seattle and San Francisco are being crushed by escalating numbers of homeless individuals and an accompanying increase in crime, drug use and public health risks.
City of Grants Pass v. Johnson stems from an earlier decision in the case Martin v. City of Boise in which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment prevented cities from criminally prosecuting individuals for sleeping outside when shelter space was unavailable. Following Martin, the City of Grants Pass attempted to rework their camping ordinances in a way that accommodated the Ninth Circuit’s ruling but still allowed them to address the growing homelessness in their area. In response, the Ninth Circuit struck down the new ordinance, and refused the city’s request for a rehearing before the entire Ninth Circuit bench. Grants Pass then appealed their case to the Supreme Court of the United States, asking the Court to definitively rule on whether or not enforcement of anti-camping laws really constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” as defined under the Eighth Amendment.
The impact of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling on the nine states under its jurisdiction has been staggering as they struggle to address growing homelessness in their major cities. In 2018, the year Martin v. Boise was handed down, roughly 30 out of every 10,000 people in Washington were experiencing homelessness. Five years later, that number ballooned to 36 out of every 10,000 people for a total of 28,036 individuals experiencing homelessness in 2023. Washington now has the sixth highest rate of homelessness in the country.
Leslie Lewallen, Camas City Council Member and candidate for Congress, hailed the high court’s announcement with the following statement: “I am thrilled that the Supreme Court has granted certiorari to City of Grants Pass v. Johnson after they refused to take up Martin v. City of Boise in 2019. Martin v. Boise was a terrible decision, handed down by three, Democratic judges on the 9th Circuit. It has paralyzed cities’ efforts to adequately address the growing homelessness crises in an effective but compassionate manner. It is my ardent hope that through this process the Supreme Court will ultimately strike down Martin v. Boise.”
Lewallen has been a strong advocate for addressing the homelessness crisis on the Camas City Council and will continue to hold Democrats accountable for their inaction.
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