Supreme Court Update: City of Grants Pass v. Gloria Johnson


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Rachel Mackey

Legislative Director – Human Services & Education | Veterans & Military Services

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Supreme Court Update:  City of Grants Pass v. Gloria Johnson


As communities across the country address the complex and nuanced issues of housing shortages and homelessness crises, it is critical for localities to retain the ability to make tough policy choices unobstructed by court-issued mandates. 


Over the last few years, courts have significantly narrowed the permissible scope of local regulation of public camping. The catalyst for this shift was Martin v. City of Boise, a 2018 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that prohibits encampment ordinances when applied to homeless or unsheltered individuals when a local government lacks adequate emergency public shelter beds. However, the court left open the question of whether any regulation of the location or scope of public camping can be constitutional. In a subsequent case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the constitutionality of an anti-encampment ordinance in Grants Pass, Oregon in a decision that appeared to expand Martin, citing the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court granted review of that decision at the urging of numerous state and local governments and representative associations, including NACo


In a Local Government Legal Center Amicus Brief submitted in support of the petitioner, NACo argued that if a ruling for the respondent would divert complex, highly localized policy decisions about how to respond to homelessness from the county legislature to the federal courts, with substantial financial implications for local governments and perverse incentives to invest public resources on temporary shelter beds rather than more permanent solutions.


On June 28, the Supreme Court issued a 6-3 ruling that anti-encampment ordinances do not violate the Eight Amendment, overturning both the decisions in Martin and in Grants Pass. The majority opinion, which cites the Local Government Legal Center's brief on numerous occasion, will provide the critical flexibility needed for county governments to respond to homelessness in their communities. Learn more here.