SAN DIEGO — San Diego city officials are joining a federal court case out of Oregon that is looking to get the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on rules that have barred cities from clearing homeless encampments without available shelter beds.
During the regularly-held closed door session on Monday, the City Council voted 6-2 to participate in the case, City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Gloria Johnson, et al., with City Councilmembers Monica Montgomery-Steppe and Vivian Moreno voting in opposition.
City Council Present Sean Elo-Rivera was absent from the vote.
The lawsuit, which was brought by three homeless residents in the City of Grants Pass, sought to overturn city ordinances that restricted camping and sleeping in public through fines and other regulations.
In 2020, a court sided with the unhoused plaintiffs, saying in its decision that it was a violation of the Eighth Amendment to punish people for sleeping in public when there is no where else for them to go.
That decision built on the precedent set by the Ninth Circuit in the 2018 case Martin v. City of Boise, which held that the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause of the Eight Amendment narrowly prevents governments from imposing criminal penalties on homeless individuals “for sitting, sleeping, or lying outside on public property” if there is no accessible alternative.
The defendants in the Grants Pass case, however, attempted to appeal the lower court decision.
Last year, a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit upheld the lower court’s ruling, prompting the city to request all judges on the federal court to hear the case. In July, the Ninth Circuit court’s majority voted not to reconsider.
Now, Grants Pass is again attempting to get another opinion, filing a petition to get the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.
In the city’s petition, they posed the question: “Does the enforcement of generally applicable laws regulating camping on public property constitute ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ prohibited by the Eighth Amendment?”
It’s worth noting that the City of Boise also attempted to appeal to the highest court in the land, but the justices at the time declined to take it up.
San Diego, which recently implemented similar camping ordinances, will now be joining the case as as an “amicus curiae,” or a “friend of the court.” These are generally people or groups who are not party to a case, but they can get permission to submit briefs intending to influence the court’s decision.
The city will be joining Seattle and other metro areas within the Ninth Circuit court jurisdiction in a petition to get the court to hear the case.
“Cities must be able to address the significant public health and safety dangers posed by the unsafe and unsanitary encampments that have become a serious issue across the United States,” Mayor Todd Gloria said in a statement. “The City of Grants Pass, Oregon, has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to untie the hands of cities attempting to respond to this public-health problem, and I thank the San Diego City Council for agreeing to my request to have our city join Grants Pass in this fight.”
Earlier this week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom similarly announced his intention to intervene in a different ongoing federal case out of San Francisco relating to the cleaning up of homeless encampments.
“I’ve had it,” he said during an interview with Politico in Sacramento. “We’re going to intervene, and I hope this goes to the Supreme Court, and that’s a hell of a statement for a progressive democrat … to say.”
He added that federal judges have “gone too far” in interpreting the Martin v. Boise and earlier Grants Pass rulings.