The United States Supreme Court declined to review City of Boise v. Martin, Case No. 19-247—a decision in which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that enforcing local laws prohibiting camping and sleeping on public property “when no sleeping space is practically available in any shelter” within the jurisdiction violates the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
Renne Public Law Group (RPLG), a San Francisco-based law firm that represents local governments, previously filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief on behalf of the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) and a coalition of 33 concerned California counties and cities asking the Supreme Court to review the Martin decision.
The amicus brief explained that the ill-defined standard adopted by the Ninth Circuit could jeopardize the ability of counties and cities to get people living on the streets into shelters, provide those individuals with the critical services they need, and move people camping in hazard-prone areas to safety. Instead, municipalities that try to enforce anti-public camping laws may face federal civil rights lawsuits that threaten to cost taxpayers millions and divert public funds away from the ongoing efforts of counties and cities to increase support services and build more shelters and permanent affordable housing. Nineteen other amicus briefs were filed asking the Supreme Court to review the Martin decision.
The lack of clarity in the Martin decision leaves significant room for interpretation. Now that the Supreme Court has declined to review that decision, courts will decide on a case-by-case basis how to construe and apply Martin, and counties and cities will continue to argue for a reasonable interpretation of the decision.
“One of the factors the Supreme Court considers in deciding whether to review a lower court decision is whether the decision conflicts with other federal courts of appeals’ decisions on the same important matter,” said RPLG Partner Teresa Stricker, lead counsel for Amici CSAC and coalition members. “We feel confident that the Supreme Court will eventually address the legal issues presented in Martin in a future case once those issues have been fully vetted by other federal appellate courts across the country.”