PRI Files Amicus Brief in Major Supreme Court Case on Homeless Crisis


PRI has filed an amicus curiae brief in a key U.S. Supreme Court case that could tremendously impact how state and local governments address homelessness.

Grants Pass v. Johnson involves efforts by the city of Grants Pass, Oregon to discourage sleeping and camping in public spaces.  Homeless advocates sued the city, arguing that its methods were cruel and unusual punishment.  The 9th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that cities cannot enforce total sleeping and camping bans without sufficient shelter space to offer the homeless.

Click here to download a copy of PRI’s amicus brief in the case

PRI’s amicus brief presents two core arguments for why the Court should overturn the 9th Circuit ruling and allow Grants Pass and other cities to enforce anti-encampment ordinances:

  • Anti-Vagrancy Laws Have a Long History of Enforcement: As noted in the brief, “anti-vagrancy laws come with a long historical pedigree spanning periods before, during, and after the adoption of the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment.    Further, punishment for violating anti-vagrancy laws issued more than 100 years ago “were often far more severe than the mild penalties at issue here yet were not denounced as cruel and unusual.”
  • California’s Homeless Problem Is Too Complex for Narrow Policy Choices: The brief also objects to the Ninth Circuit “using narrowly confined notions of involuntary behavior or unavoidable choices as the touchstone for deeming even the mildest punishment to be disproportionately cruel and unusual,” which it argues “is an overly simplistic approach to a complex social problem.” PRI’s brief also makes the case that “inserting the unmoored policymaking of the federal judiciary into the mix is not the answer, either from a constitutional or policy-making perspective.”

PRI scholars are leading statewide voices writing about, and promoting market-based solutions to, California’s homeless crisis.

Most recently, PRI published a new Free Cities Center booklet, “Giving Housing Supply a Boost,” which argues that homelessness is a social problem compounded by exorbitant housing prices, and showcases private nonprofits like DignityMoves that are turning lives around more effectively than government.  Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho, who is suing the city of Sacramento over its failure to enforce anti-homelessness laws, was a featured speaker at PRI’s recent “California Ideas in Action” conference.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in Grants Pass v. Johnson on April 22.  PRI’s amicus curiae brief was prepared and filed by Erik Jaffe of Scherr | Jaffe LLP.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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