Seattle joins in push for Supreme Court review over camping ban enforcement

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(The Center Square) – The city of Seattle is joining more than a dozen other governmental entities in signing an amicus brief requesting the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case of Johnson v. City of Grants Pass.

The Johnson v. Grants Pass ruling affirmed a permanent injunction that enjoined, or stopped, a city ordinance enforcing public camping prohibitions unless the city first provides shelter beds for each homeless individual in the jurisdiction.

The brief also calls out the 9th Circuit Court’s decision regarding Martin v. Boise, which currently applies to Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, the Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon and Washington. The ruling was made prior to Johnson v. Grants Pass and explicitly states that even where shelter is unavailable, “an ordinance prohibiting sitting, lying, or sleeping outside at particular times or in particular locations might well be constitutionally permissible.”

Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison announced her signature on the amicus brief, saying the Ninth Circuit’s decision “strips local authority from a complex problem.”

“Local officials know what their community needs and what unique obstacles face those experiencing homelessness in their region,” Davison explained in a statement. “The amicus brief filed today asks the Supreme Court to review case law, as applied by federal courts, and restore the authority of local elected officials.”

The amicus brief finds that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a permanent junction under the guise of the Eighth Amendment, stating that “a town’s power to keep the town square open to the public has never been seriously questioned,” prior to the decision.

Further into the document, the 18 government entities and organizations find that the Johnson v. Grants Pass and Martin v. City of Boise rulings compel local governments to choose between either providing shelter or surrendering public land to encampments.

“This separation of powers violation has a substantial impact on local budgets and appropriates limited tax dollars for the direct benefit of a disproportionately small percentage of the population,” the amicus brief states.

The government entities also find that the rulings incorrectly deem that temporary shelter beds are the solution to homelessness, which channel local resources away from longer-term solutions like permanent supportive housing, mental healthcare, drug rehabilitation, and low-income housing support.

The impacts of homelessness impact the surrounding areas in numerous ways. For example, in the case of Seattle, in just one month in 2022, the city collected 671,169 pounds of undisposed trash and 46,497 used needles from encampments.

Throughout Washington, the vast majority of encampment cleanups on thoroughfares since 2017 have required disposal of human waste, used needles and trash. The amicus brief finds solid waste as an “inevitable result of most homeless encampments.”

Seattle joins local governments and governmental organizations that have signed onto the brief. The list includes the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties.

Similar amicus filings have been made in other West Coast locations including the recent filing by the State of California.

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