Federal appeals court agrees Grants Pass ordinances violated constitutional rights of homeless

By Conrad Wilson (OPB)
Sept. 28, 2022 11:53 p.m.

Wednesday’s decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals builds on a 2018 ruling involving the city of Boise, which found a person cannot be punished for sleeping in public if there’s nowhere else for them to go.

A federal appeals court Wednesday upheld a ruling that found the city of Grants Pass in southern Oregon violated the constitutional rights of people experiencing homelessness through a series of ordinances designed to prevent sleeping outside on public property.

In a 2-1 decision, judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals largely upheld a 2020 injunction issued by U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke, which ruled several ordinances designed to prevent people from sleeping on sidewalks and streets, violated the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment.


“We affirm the district court’s ruling that the City of Grants Pass cannot, consistent with the Eighth Amendment, enforce its anti-camping ordinances against homeless persons for the mere act of sleeping outside with rudimentary protection from the elements, or for sleeping in their car at night, when there is no other place in the City for them to go,” Roslyn Silver, a U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Arizona states in the court’s opinion. Circuit Court Judge Ronald Gould signed onto Silver’s opinion. Both judges were appointed by former President Bill Clinton.


The decision Wednesday rests on a 2018 ruling from the Ninth Circuit, known as Martin v. Boise, which found a person cannot be punished for sleeping in public if there’s nowhere else for them to go.

That case has had widespread implications for municipalities throughout the Western United States that have tried to regulate where people without shelter can spend the night.

In Wednesday’s ruling, Ninth Circuit Court Judge Daniel Collins dissented. He stated the ruling “effectively requires the City of Grants Pass to allow all but one of its public parks to be used as homeless encampments.” Collins, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, stated that Martin and the Grass Pass case, “should be overturned or overruled at the earliest opportunity.”

Wednesday’s decision also held that homeless people sleeping in public cannot be fined. And the court found if the city did not provide enough shelter beds, people forced to sleep outside could use tents, or other forms of protection from the elements, or sleep in their vehicles.

Grant Pass city manager Aaron Cubic said the city was still reviewing the decision and didn’t have an initial comment.