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Home | Newsroom | Access to Justice | OFFICIAL STATEMENT – SCOTUS RULING Johnson v. Grants Pass

OFFICIAL STATEMENT – SCOTUS RULING Johnson v. Grants Pass

In a profoundly disappointing ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court today decided that the US Constitution does not protect homeless people against cruel and unusual punishment, even when they have no choice to sleep in public using things like blankets or pillows.

Arresting or fining people for trying to survive is expensive, counterproductive, and cruel. This inhumane ruling, which goes against the values of nearly three-quarters of Americans, will make homelessness worse in Grants Pass and nationwide. Cities are now even more empowered to neglect proven housing-based solutions and to arrest or fine those with no choice but to sleep outdoors. While we are disappointed, we are not surprised that this Supreme Court ruled against the interests of our poorest neighbors.

This ruling will also adversely impact BIPOC communities and individuals, who are disproportionately unhoused and often targeted merely for being present in public spaces.

Despite the setback, the Western Center on Law & Poverty finds strength in Justice Sotomayor’s compelling dissent.

“Sleep is a biological necessity, not a crime. For some people, sleeping outside is their only option. The City of Grants Pass jails and fines those people for sleeping anywhere in public at any time, including in their cars, if they use as little as a blanket to keep warm or a rolled-up shirt as a pillow. For people with no access to shelter, that punishes them for being homeless. That is unconscionable and unconstitutional,” Justice Sotomayor wrote.

This dissent aligns with our long-held belief that no one should be punished for sleeping outside, especially when they have no other options. While we are enraged, we are now even more committed to ensuring that everybody has a safe place to call home.

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, the Western Center calls on the Biden administration and Congress to invest at least $356 billion in the next year with continued funding in future years to ensure that everybody has safe, decent housing that they can afford. Specifically, we call for full funding of:

  • Universal rental assistance for lowest-income households
  • Public housing repair and preservation
  • National Housing Trust Fund
  • Eviction and homelessness prevention
  • Voluntary supportive and emergency services

The Western Center extends its gratitude to the thousands of nationwide advocates who mobilized around this landmark case, rallied with us during oral arguments at the Supreme Court, and signed the 42 amicus briefs in support of homeless rights. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, we know that housing, not handcuffs, solves homelessness, and we will continue our work to ensure that everyone, regardless of race or background, has the housing they need to thrive.

We invite everybody to join us for a mass organizing call at 1 PM EST Monday. Click here to RSVP.

The Supreme Court’s ruling will make it even easier for cities and states to arrest or fine homeless people sleeping outside, which will make homelessness worse. We need your help to grow our resources to fight back harder than before! Show your support today by making a one time or recurring gift of $35!

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The Court’s ruling does not change Western Center’s work. We remain steadfastly committed to evidence-based solutions to homelessness. We remain committed to holding public officials accountable in addressing the needs of people living on our streets. And we remain fiercely committed to housing, not handcuffs, for our unhoused neighbors.