The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal in a case originating from Boise, Idaho, that would have made it a crime to camp and sleep in public spaces.
The decision to let a ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stand is a setback for states and local governments in much of the West that are grappling with widespread homelessness by designing laws to regulate makeshift encampments on sidewalks and parks.
The case stems from a lawsuit filed nearly a decade ago. A handful of people sued the city of Boise for repeatedly ticketing them for violating an ordinance against sleeping outside. While Boise officials later amended it to prohibit citations when shelters are full, the 9th Circuit eventually determined the local law was unconstitutional.
In a decision last year, the court said it was “cruel and unusual punishment” to enforce rules that stop homeless people from camping in public places when they have no place else to go. That means states across the 9th Circuit can no longer enforce similar statutes if they don’t have enough shelter beds for homeless people sleeping outside.
Los Angeles attorney Theane Evangelis, who is representing Boise in the case, argued the decision ultimately harms the people it purports to protect because cities need the ability to control encampments that threaten public health and safety.
“Cities’ hands are tied now by the 9th Circuit Decision because it effectively creates a Constitutional right to camp,” Evangelis said in a statement.
In court documents, lawyers for Boise said, “Public encampments, now protected by the Constitution under the Ninth Circuit’s decision, have spawned crime and violence, incubated disease, and created environmental hazards that threaten the lives and well-being both of those living on the streets and the public at large.”
Major West Coast cities and counties with soaring homeless populations had backed Boise in its petition, including Los Angeles County, where the number of people without a permanent place to live has jumped by 16% in the past year.
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Contributed by Sean Walton of The Daily Sheeple.