Supreme Court Lets Stand 9th Circuit Ruling Finding Camping Ban Unconstitutional

Posted on December 17, 2019 by Jonathan

Yesterday, Monday December 16th 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that they will not review the Ninth Circuit case, Martin v. City of Boise, 902 F.3d 1031 (9th Cir. 2018), thus upholding their ruling that it is cruel and unconstitutional to punish unhoused people for resting in public when they are involuntarily in public space.

In finding Boise’s ordinances unconstitutional as applied to Robert Martin and the other plaintiffs, the Ninth Circuit reasoned that people who are involuntarily in public space cannot be punished for universal and unavoidable human conduct, such as sitting, lying down, and sleeping. As was first held in Jones v. City of Los Angeles,1 punishing conduct that is involuntary and inseparable from homeless status is akin to punishing a person simply because he or she is homeless – a cruel result that cannot be tolerated under the Eighth Amendment.

The ruling makes clear that to determine involuntary presence in public space, courts must not look merely to whether housing or temporary shelter beds are empty, but to whether they are accessible. Access to adequate shelter means that a person has actual access to shelter that meets the person’s needs, taking into consideration disability, religious belief, and other individual factors.

Here in Denver CO right now a municipal judge is hearing a similar case with the motion to dismiss Jerry Burton’s Camping Ban ticket as unconstitutional. This motion names numerous constitutional rights that are being violated by the law in addition to those named in the Boise case, including discrimination and state created danger. This case also is clear that shelters are not housing and cannot be treated as an option for someone to go to if it is less safe than the streets.
By not intervening in this case, the Supreme Court keeps the ruling in place that these laws against public survival are unconstitutional. In order to uphold the constitution not just in the 9th circuit but even in Colorado, Denver – and all cities with similar laws in Colorado – must overturn their Survival Ban. Until that is done the city will continue to face court costs and litigation against their unconstitutional law.

Message to Denver City Council: Make the right choice NOW and end the Survival Ban before we have to spend millions more dollars and years more time in courts. Follow the message from the Supreme Court (yes even this Supreme court!) and end this unconstitutional law.

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