The Supreme Court Declines to Hear Controversial Sidewalk Sleeping Case

The highest court in the land won’t consider a ruling regarding whether cities can cite the homeless for sleeping outside

On Monday, the Supreme Court decided it will not hear a challenge to Martin v. Boise, a controversial 9th Circuit Court decision that prevents cities from citing homeless people for sleeping outside when there is no other shelter available.

The result of a decade-old lawsuit brought against the city of Boise, Idaho, by seven homeless people who had been cited for camping, the decision has had ripple effects in cities across the West, forcing local governments to reassess the role of policing in dealing with their local homeless crises. It has led to a particularly heated discussions in Los Angeles, which has an unsheltered homeless population of approximately 44,000.

In September, the City of Los Angeles and dozens of other municipalities filed amicus—or “friend-of-the-court”—briefs urging the Supreme Court to reopen Martin v. Boise. Monday’s refusal to hear the case means that the original decision will stay intact, preventing governments from citing or arresting homeless people for sleeping outdoors, unless there is adequate shelter offered to them. The court did not offer an explanation for declining the case.

The decision has been celebrated by many Los Angeles homeless advocates, who say the city should focus on providing services and housing for homeless people as opposed to policing them. L.A. has seen other legal battles around this matter in the past—in 2006, a similar ruling form the 9th Circuit Court struck down an L.A. ordinance that banned people from sleeping in public places. A settlement was eventually negotiated with lawyers, with the city agreeing to stop enforcing so-called “sidewalk sleeping laws” between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Following the Boise decision earlier this year, city officials revisited the issue, proposing a rewrite of the L.A.’s existing sidewalk sleeping ordinance. The new rules would have banned homeless people from large swaths of the city, and resulted in an outcry from homeless activists. The proposal was eventually shelved.

City Attorney Mike Feuer, who wrote the City of L.A.’s amicus brief asking for Boise to be challenged, said in a previous interview that he feels the “broad” terms of the decision will open the city up to costly legal battles, as officials figure out how much shelter needs to be built before rules can be enforced.

“I know there are advocates who say people have a right to sleep anywhere they darn well please,” he said. “I disagree with that. I think that it’s appropriate to have rules in the city that say, for example, people shouldn’t be on the street next to a school. I think Boise may allow that, but the opinion is not clear.”

RELATED: Homeless People’s Right to Sleep on Sidewalks Could Soon be Challenged in the Supreme Court

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