Seattle joins group pushing Supreme Court to rule on camping ban enforcement

Sep 27, 2023, 7:40 AM | Updated: 9:46 am

seattle fentanyl...

A man brings shoplifted beer to sell at a homeless encampment on March 12, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. Stolen goods are sold for cash or drugs, currently most often fentanyl. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Seattle is part of a group of cities that have filed a formal request to the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on a case preventing them from clearing campers who are homeless.

A total of 17 other cities have signed the amicus brief about a case out of Grants Pass, Oregon. The cities are challenging a decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals called Martin vs. City of Boise, which prevents local municipalities from banning daytime camping when there is no available shelter space.

More news: Burien leaders voice opinions as city council votes to ban camping by razor-thin margin

The circuit court ruled laws against public camping cannot be enforced unless shelter is provided to every homeless person in the jurisdiction due to the 8th Amendment’s stipulation against “cruel and unusual punishments.” The court ruled that clearing these camps and criminalizing unsheltered people is unduly punishing people with nowhere else to go.

The cities are banding together, filing an amicus brief in a new case, Johnson vs. City of Grants Pass, which affirmed the same ruling, and the coalition of lawyers is looking to overturn Martin vs. City of Boise.

In Johnson vs. City of Grants Pass, three homeless residents filed a lawsuit against the city because of the enforcement of a public camping ordinance, similar to ordinances that Burien and Lakewood have recently passed.

The City of Grants Pass is now filing to have the Supreme Court rule on the issue, saying that, “Public-camping laws are a critical (and constitutional) backstop as cities attempt to stop the growth of encampments and start to make progress on the underlying causes of homelessness.” The Supreme Court declined to hear the case on Martin vs. City of Boise when they appealed last year.

Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison said that local leaders should be allowed to create laws that suit their region’s specific needs.

“It should be among our top moral priorities to help the unhoused move into permanent housing,” Davison wrote in a press release. “But a one-size-fits-all legal approach will not create effective solutions for every community. In today’s amicus, I ask that local autonomy be restored to our elected decision makers to appropriately direct resources to our homelessness crisis.”

Seattle is joined by lawyers from Honolulu, Anchorage, San Diego, Colorado Springs, Providence, and other including the National League of Cities.

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Seattle joins group pushing Supreme Court to rule on camping ban enforcement