Arizona GOP leaders want US Supreme Court to review homeless encampment case
Sep 25, 2023, 8:00 PM
(File Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
PHOENIX – Arizona Republican leaders are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a case that could change how lawmakers can deal with homeless encampments.
State Senate President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma filed a brief last week asking the nation’s high court to review a federal case involving the regulation of public camping in Oregon.
“Lives and livelihoods are lost every single day that we continue to allow homeless encampments to grow in our communities,” Petersen said in a press release Wednesday.
“We must have clarity from the U.S. Supreme Court in order to holistically address the systemic issues contributing to homelessness, as well as the dire public safety and public health consequences created by allowing these encampments to remain.”
What have courts said about Oregon city’s public camping laws?
A U.S. District Court previously ruled that the southern Oregon city of Grants Pass violated the Eight Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, with several ordinances restricting how and where unsheltered people can sleep in public.
The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the ruling in Johnson v. Grants Pass, but the city wants the Supreme Court to review the case.
Petersen and Toma filed an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief on Wednesday, arguing that the lower courts misapplied the Eight Amendment and stepped out of the judicial lane to interfere with policymaking.
Case could affect Zone homeless encampment in Phoenix
The brief references difficulties Arizona lawmakers are having in dealing with the Zone homeless encampment near downtown Phoenix.
Last week, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered Phoenix to abate the public nuisance of the Zone by Nov. 4.
City officials have been constrained somewhat by rulings in another lawsuit, one filed last year by the American Civil Liberties Union accusing the city of violating the civil rights of the Zone’s unsheltered residents.
The judge in that federal case issued an order in December prohibiting the city from enforcing sleeping and camping bans on anyone in the Zone who can’t obtain a shelter bed. The city was also told it couldn’t destroy property seized during cleanup efforts without first holding it in a secure location for 30 days.
“This situation is a result of federal court rulings that some say prohibit the police from enforcing street camping bans even when shelter can be provided to the homeless person,” GOP state Sen. John Kavanagh said in last week’s press release.
“It is imperative that the Supreme Court clarify lower court rulings, so that if homeless persons are offered shelter and refuse, they can be removed from the street by the police.”