A 2018 court case has resurfaced thanks to a legal push for its overturning — that and Boise’s mayoral front runners have both weighed in on it.
In 2009, Robert Martin and five other Boiseans who were at the time or had recently been homeless sued the city for ticketing them for sleeping outside when there were no available shelter beds to sleep in. They argued that the criminal prosecution of anyone sleeping outside on public property without alternative shelter amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.
That case made it up to the Ninth Circuit Court, where a panel of three judges sided with Martin and his fellow plaintiffs in 2018.
A court statement read, “The panel held that, as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”
What’s Happening, and Why Now?
Earlier this year, Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador and Montana’s AG led a coalition of 20 state AGs in petitioning for a writ of certiorari (asking that the Supreme Court take up a lower court’s case). However, the Supreme Court already rejected the case when the City of Boise appealed in 2019.
The Supreme Court’s makeup has changed significantly in the four years since, but the AGs have another reason to think that they might find favor with the court.
In the case of Johnson v. City of Grants Pass, the Ninth Circuit built upon their opinion in Martin, and said that the Oregon city of Grants Pass had violated the Eighth Amendment by imposing civil fines on unhoused people for using a blanket, pillow, or cardboard box as protection from the elements.
In essence, the Court found that Boise violated the Eighth Amendment by imposing criminal penalties on people sleeping outside with nowhere else to go, while Grants Pass imposed civil penalties in their “anti-camping” ordinances.
The AGs, along with multiple organizations, say that the Ninth Court overstepped in both Martin and Johnson, and have limited West Coast cities’ ability to both “meaningfully [address] the homelessness crisis” and fulfill their duties to public safety.
Additionally, the AGs asked the Supreme Court to reconsider:
- Whether the issue of homelessness is a federal matter, arguing that it’s a local and state issue instead.
- The Ninth Circuit’s use of the “evolving standards of decency” test, which asks courts to assess whether a punishment is cruel and unusual within society’s ever-changing contexts.
Mayor McLean won her first term in office just weeks before the Martin decision, and has said that she does not support the push to overturn Martin, while her main challenger Mike Masterson says that he supports the appeal to the Supreme Court.