US Supreme Court Considers Constitutionality of Homeless Penalties

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday debated whether laws against homeless people sleeping rough violate their Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

The case pits three homeless people against Grants Pass, Ore., a rural town of 40,000 that has left at least 600 residents without a place to live. Local lawyers say The actual figure may be twice as high, according to The Washington Post. There is a problem Can local authorities fine people for sleeping outside? If they don't go anywhere else.

The justices heard arguments for more than two hours on Monday, with some questioning whether the justices should even make the decision, while others asserted that since sleep is a biological need, such laws are tantamount to criminalizing breathing.

“Why do you think these nine people are better placed to judge and weigh those policy judgments?” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked a lawyer for the Biden administration, The Post reported.

The implications stretch beyond Grants Pass, a 138-bed facility that imposes strict rules and houses no homeless shelter except for Gospel Rescue.

“If every town, every village, every city without mercy, passes a law like this, where shall they be?” asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “Where should they sleep? Should they commit suicide without sleep?

Outside the court, hundreds of demonstrators gathered chanting and chanting, “Home, not handcuffs.”

With more than 650,000 homeless people nationwide and nearly half sleeping outside, the matter has become an issue across America. A Supreme Court case stemming from a 2018 lawsuit filed by three homeless people against Grands Pass fined $75 to $295 for those sleeping in public outdoor spaces, such as parks and parked cars.

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Those who can't pay are jailed or banned from the park altogether. All three say the law is “cruel and unusual punishment” while residents feel they are lost the use of their parks.

The case went through lower courts, which lifted the ban, before reaching the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to issue a decision in June.

With news wire services

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