Supreme Court allows camping bans targeting homeless encampments


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Washington — The Supreme Court on Friday sided with a small Oregon town that imposes civil punishments on homeless people for sleeping in public spaces, finding that enforcement of its anti-camping rules is not prohibited by the Eighth Amendment’s protections from cruel and unusual punishment.

The 6-3 decision from the court in the case known as City of Grants Pass v. Johnson is its most significant involving homelessness in decades. It comes as cities nationwide grapple with a spike in the number of people without access to shelter, driven in part by high housing costs and the end of aid programs launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ruling is likely to clear the way for state and local officials to mete out civil punishments in an effort to curtail homeless encampments, which have spread throughout the West as a result of a federal appeals court decision in the case involving anti-camping ordinances from Grants Pass, Oregon.

A number of state and local leaders across party lines have defended camping bans as necessary for protecting public health and safety, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit found laws imposing civil penalties on homeless people for sleeping outside when they have nowhere else to go are unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court reversed that decision, concluding that the enforcement of laws regulating camping on public property does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

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