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The Supreme Court says cities can punish people for sleeping in public places

In its biggest decision on homelessness in decades, the U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that cities can ban people from sleeping and camping in public places. The justices, in a 6-3 decision along ideological lines, overturned lower court rulings that deemed it cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment to punish people for sleeping outside if they had nowhere else to go.

Writing for the majority, Justice Gorsuch said, “Homelessness is complex. Its causes are many.” But he said federal judges do not have any “special competence” to decide how cities should deal with this.

“The 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,” he wrote.

In a dissent, Justice Sotomayor said the decision focused only on the needs of cities but not the most vulnerable. She said sleep is a biological necessity, but this decision leaves a homeless person with “an impossible choice — either stay awake or be arrested.”

The court's decision is a win not only for the small Oregon city of Grants Pass, which brought the case, but also for dozens of Western localities that had urged the high court to grant them more enforcement powers as they grapple with record high rates of homelessness. They said the lower court rulings had tied their hands in trying to keep public spaces open and safe for everyone.

But advocates for the unhoused say the decision won’t solve the bigger problem, and could make life much harder for the quarter of a million people living on streets, in parks and in their cars. “Where do people experiencing homelessness go if every community decides

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