SCOTUS Tears Up Unhoused People’s Constitutional Rights

statement by the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP)

Washington D.C. – The Supreme Court issued a decision today in the landmark case Grants Pass v. Johnson. This case centers on whether governments can fine and arrest unhoused people who have no other choice but to sleep outside. As expected, our Dred Scott-loving Supreme Court diluted people’s 8th Amendment protections against Cruel and Unusual punishment OR …The court upheld this ruling deciding it is indeed cruel and unusual punishment to cite and arrest people for lodging when no shelter is available  

Lower courts had ruled that Grants Pass practices were in fact found to be unconstitutional as they were arresting and citing unhoused people for camping, who have no other choice but to live on the streets. 

According to Terese Howard of House Keys Action Network in Denver, CO, “Anti-camping and lodging ordinances result in citations, arrests, and forced displacement for the inescapably human act of taking up space. These ordinances cause essential belongings, including items necessary to basic human survival, to be confiscated and destroyed. And they severely curtail people’s ability to pursue economic and housing security.”

According to Paul Boden of WRAP “Criminalizing poverty and homelessness not only fails to address systemic causes of mass homelessness, it also exacerbates both the underlying structures of oppression that continue to plague our society, racism and classism.”

According to Jennifer Friedenbach of the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco, “We want to see everyone have a safe and decent place to call home. Homelessness kills, housing saves lives – these protections against inhumane policing are critical to forcing local government to solve the crisis.”

Ordinances criminalizing people for their status as unhoused people are not only cruel but are derived from rejected historical efforts to banish undesirable people from public spaces. The court should have followed historical precedent and deemed the criminalization of basic survival unconstitutional. 

Civil penalties and/or forced displacement of unhoused residents is a clear form of punishment, with severe collateral consequences that make obtaining housing impossible. 

The decision to side with Grants Pass concretizes displacement into law which will continue to exacerbate the already negligent and abusive conditions unhoused people face everyday simply to survive in this country.