Newsom says court decision allows clearing encampments – advocates say ruling is cruel and unusual

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CALIFORNIA – Governor Gavin Newsom released a statement, June 28, on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling City of Grants Pass v. Johnson case.

The justices ruled that the city did not violate the Eighth Amendment when they criminalized sleeping in public spaces.

Newsom said the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court provides state and local officials the definitive authority to implement and enforce policies to clear unsafe encampments from our streets.

“This decision removes the legal ambiguities that have tied the hands of local officials for years and limited their ability to deliver on common-sense measures to protect the safety and well-being of our communities,” said Newsom.

Cruel and unusual punishment

The Supreme Court case City of Grants Pass v. Johnson addresses the issue of whether anti-camping ordinances that criminalize sleeping in public spaces violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment”. 

The plaintiffs, a group of homeless individuals, argued that the ordinances effectively criminalize their status as homeless people since there are no adequate shelters available in Grants Pass, Oregon.

The Ninth Circuit Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, issuing an injunction preventing the city from enforcing its ordinances when there are no available shelter beds. 

The Supreme Court ruled on June 28, that local government ordinances penalizing camping on public property do not constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment.

The Court’s 6-3 decision, written by Justice Gorsuch, reversed the Ninth Circuit’s earlier decision, allowing cities to enforce such ordinances even if there are not enough shelter beds available. 

Everyone in California deserves a safe, dignified place to live

Fair housing advocates say the original intent and meaning of the Eighth Amendment and its application in more than a century of Supreme Court cases make clear that the government cannot impose punishment that is disproportionate to the crime.

“Everyone in California deserves a safe, dignified place to live,” said ACLU of Southern California staff attorney Kath Rogers. “This Supreme Court ruling — decimating a half century of precedent — continues in the shameful tradition of choosing to remove unhoused people from public view rather than provide our community members with what they actually need: affordable housing.”

According to the press release, California is investing $1 billion as part of the state’s Encampment Resolution Fund (ERF). These dollars are specifically earmarked to help move individuals experiencing homelessness out of dangerous encampments and into shelter and housing.  

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