WilmerHale Files Supreme Court Amicus Brief in Support of Homeless Rights in Grants Pass v. Johnson

WilmerHale Files Supreme Court Amicus Brief in Support of Homeless Rights in Grants Pass v. Johnson

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WilmerHale submitted an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs and on behalf of medical and public health professionals and organizations from across the country in the upcoming landmark US Supreme Court case Grants Pass v. Johnson.

Grants Pass v. Johnson is among the most significant legal cases regarding homelessness in the past 40 years. It will address the critical issue of whether laws punishing unhoused individuals for sleeping outdoors with basic protections such as a pillow or blanket – when no safe and accessible shelter options are available – are violations of the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution.

The amicus brief, co-written by Kevin Prussia, Laura Powell, Gilbert Smolenski and Kelley Kling, asserts that the City of Grants Pass’s Ordinances that make the status of homelessness unlawful violate the Eighth Amendment and fail to promote public health in the unhoused persons community and, instead, disregard scientific evidence showing the negative health outcomes resulting from similar ordinances of the past.

“By criminalizing unhoused individuals for engaging in life sustaining conduct like sleeping, the Grants Pass Ordinances create an environment where unhoused persons lack a single place that they can lawfully be. The Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause forbids government actors from using criminal process to compel compliance with bans on living in public places when those subject to such process have no alternative place to stay.”

The Ordinances pose a significant risk to public health by criminalizing unhoused persons’ existence at the most basic level. Sleep is not a luxury; it is a biological necessity, of which the importance has been confirmed by modern medicine and scientific studies. 

“When an unhoused individual is prevented access to alternative sleep environments, the opportunities for undisturbed sleep decreases, which increases the risk of negative health outcomes. Many existing health conditions can worsen or even begin because of sleep deprivation.” Studies have shown a lack of sleep also impacts unhoused individuals’ ability to interact with society, further leading to increased rates of negative health outcomes.

The brief was submitted in solidarity with the rights of unhoused individuals across the US. Hundreds of organizations and public leaders have submitted a total of 39 amicus briefs on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Read the full Amicus Brief.



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