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City of Grants Pass v. Johnson, Supreme Court of the United States, decided June 28, 2024.

Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the Court.

Many cities across the American West face a homelessness crisis. The causes are varied and complex, the appropriate public policy responses perhaps no less so. Like many local governments, the city of Grants Pass, Oregon, has pursued a multifaceted approach. Recently, it adopted various policies aimed at “protecting the rights, dignity, and private property of the homeless. “It appointed a “homeless community liaison” officer charged with ensuring the homeless receive information about “assistance programs and other resources” available to them through the city and its local shelter. And it adopted certain restrictions against encampments on public property. The Ninth Circuit, however, held that the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause barred that last measure. With support from States and cities across the country, Grants Pass urged this Court to review the Ninth Circuit’s decision. We take up that task now.

Neither of the plaintiffs before us has been subjected to an order barring it from city property, or to criminal trespass charges.

Rather than criminalize mere status, Grants Pass forbids actions like “occupy[ing] a campsite” on public property “for the purpose of maintaining a temporary place to live.” Under the city’s laws, it makes no difference whether the charged defendant is homeless, a backpacker on vacation passing through town, or a student who abandons his dorm room to camp out in protest on the lawn of a municipal building. In that respect, the city’s laws parallel those found in countless jurisdictions across the country. And because laws like these do not criminalize mere status, Robinson is not implicated.

The Eighth Amendment provides no guidance to “confine” judges in deciding what conduct a State or city may or may not proscribe.

Homelessness is complex. Its causes are many. So may be the public policy responses required to address it. At bottom, the question this case presents is whether the Eighth Amendment grants federal judges primary responsibility for assessing those causes and devising those responses. It does not.

Yes, people will disagree over which policy responses are best; they may experiment with one set of approaches only to find later another set works better; they may find certain responses more appropriate for some communities than others. But in our democracy, that is their right. Nor can a handful of federal judges begin to “match” the collective wisdom the American people possess in deciding “how best to handle” a pressing social question like homelessness. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment serves many important functions, but it does not authorize federal judges to wrest those rights and responsibilities from the American people and in their place dictate this Nation’s homelessness policy. The judgment below is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.