(Attorney General’s Office Press Release, September 26, 2023)
Boise, ID – Attorney General Raúl Labrador led a coalition of 20 states in filing an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court urging the Court to grant a writ of certiorari to review the Ninth Circuit’s widely criticized decision in Johnson v. City of Grants Pass. The decision controversially asserted that the Constitution allows individuals to sleep and camp on sidewalks, playgrounds, and other public lands. The decision has been disastrous for state and local governments, preventing them from meaningfully addressing the homelessness crisis.
The Ninth Circuit’s flawed ruling stripped authority from state and local governments in addressing homelessness. In 2022, a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit ruled that Grants Pass couldn’t enforce its ban on homeless individuals sleeping on public property. A similar ruling in Martin v. Boise preceded Johnson v. City of Grants Pass. In the Boise case, the Ninth Circuit declared that cities couldn’t charge someone with a crime or give them a ticket for sleeping in a public space. In both cases, the Ninth Circuit has refused appeals to the full Court.
The consequence of Western cities being unable to enforce homelessness ordinances has led to unregulated public encampments, giving rise to a multitude of public health and safety crises. A resurgence of medieval diseases like typhus, shigella, and trench fever has been observed in these encampments. Rats and fleas infest these areas, affecting nearby public buildings and residences. Additionally, these camps have resulted in unsightly and unsanitary conditions on public pathways and playgrounds, contaminated with human waste, discarded needles, and other biohazards.
The coalition of Attorneys General, led by Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador and Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, called on the Supreme Court to correct the Ninth Circuit’s unprecedented decision and return power to state and local governments to address homelessness. Homelessness is a distinctly local issue, and the U.S. Constitution leaves such matters to state and local governments. State and local governments need the freedom to protect their communities from the adverse public health and safety risks of surging homelessness.
Attorney General Labrador emphasized, “Western states have found themselves constrained, unable to effectively tackle the grave problems posed by public encampments in their communities. The five-year experiment of the Ninth Circuit must be halted. Federal courts should exercise restraint and avoid unnecessary interference in state-level affairs.”
Attorney General Labrador further elaborated on the ruling’s impact on Idaho:
“The people of Idaho have witnessed the homelessness crisis engulfing neighboring states. To address this issue, Boise endeavored to enact ordinances that would have prevented homeless encampments. However, the Court, in an activist manner, curtailed the authority of local governments by asserting an imagined constitutional right to housing on the streets. The Supreme Court must rule in favor of local and state governments, enabling us to prevent the unfortunate developments seen in California, Washington, and Oregon from occurring in Idaho.”
Attorneys General from Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia also joined the brief led by Idaho and Montana.
Full brief can be read here.