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SCOTUS lets 9th Circuit ruling stating that homeless people have a constitutional right to camp on public property stand

35 percent of America's homeless lived unsheltered in 2018.

MattGush/Getty Images

The Supreme Court will not take up a case that asks whether or not the U.S. Constitution prevents homeless people with nowhere else to go from being ticketed for camping in public areas.

The case, which was brought to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by a group of six current or former homeless people, challenges a Boise, Idaho, ordinance that prohibits the homeless from sleeping on public property, even if they have no other shelter to go to. The petitioners claimed that the statute violated their Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment, and the federal appeals court agreed with them, affirming a lower court's ruling against Boise's camping ordinance.

In September of last year, a majority of a three-judge panel ruled that "an ordinance violates the Eighth Amendment insofar as it imposes criminal sanctions against homeless individuals for sleeping outdoors, on public property, when no alternative shelter is available to them."

The federal case over the camping ordinance began a decade ago in 2009 when a Boise-based civil rights lawyer filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of people who had been ticketed under the city's ordinance.

Figures from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development show that 35 percent of America's homeless population were in "unsheltered locations such as on the street, in abandoned buildings, or in other places not suitable for human habitation" last year.

But while homeless advocates have cheered the 9th Circuit's decision, local officials in affected jurisdictions have said it's made life more difficult.

In a story published in September at the Idaho Statesman, a lawyer for the city of Boise said that the 9th Circuit's ruling effectively created a "constitutional right to camp in public places."

The newspaper also notes that the ruling had a ripple effect on public camping enforcement throughout the states in the 9th Circuit's jurisdiction, which contains almost two-thirds of America's unsheltered homeless and where large cities have been facing challenges associated with growing homeless populations.

"By raising more issues than it resolves, the decision leaves jurisdictions like Los Angeles without the certainty necessary to balance intensely competing interests without risking costly and time-consuming litigation," said Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer about the filing of an amicus brief in the case back in September.

The Supreme Court offered no explanation for why it denied the petition in the case.

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