Supreme Court Considers Making Basic Body Functions A Criminal Offense


In a pivotal case addressing homelessness, the U.S. Supreme Court appeared to lean towards supporting an Oregon city’s measures against public sleeping, a decision with far-reaching implications amidst a surge in homelessness across the nation.

Kesterson Park in Grants Pass. Source: WorldMatrix

The Supreme Court’s prior refusal to hear a similar case from Boise, Idaho, in 2019 stands in contrast with the escalating rates of homelessness, surpassing 250,000 individuals living in makeshift shelters and vehicles. The proliferation of sprawling street encampments has triggered vehement opposition from residents and businesses.

Baker Park in Grants Pass. Source: WorldMatrix

The current legal battle centers around Grants Pass, Oregon, emblematic of the widespread homelessness crisis. Several cities and states, regardless of political affiliation, have urged the Supreme Court to intervene.

Baker Park in Grants Pass. Source: WorldMatrix

At the core of the contention lies Grants Pass’ ordinance, which prohibits sleeping with blankets or pillows on public land, a regulation ostensibly responding to the lack of adequate shelter. Lower courts have deemed such measures unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment, arguing they penalize individuals for their homeless status.

Kesterson Park in Grants Pass. Source: WorldMatrix

During the court proceedings, liberal justices criticized the ordinance as discriminatory, equating it to targeting individuals based solely on their homelessness. Justice Gorsuch raised the analogy of urinating in public to underscore the challenge of delineating between punishable conduct and inherent circumstances, emphasizing the multifaceted nature of homelessness as a policy challenge.

Bathrooms at Riverside Park in Grants Pass. Source: WorldMatrix

However, critics pointed out that Gorsuch’s analogy falls short in acknowledging that if free toilets were not available for public use; his assertion would effectively endorse the criminalization of a basic bodily function. The City of Grants Pass did in fact close public restrooms at Riverside Park with devastating consequences in an effort to drive the homeless out of the park.

Kesterson Park in Grants Pass. Source: WorldMatrix

The impending decision carries significant ramifications for homelessness management nationwide, yet it’s unlikely to offer a comprehensive solution. While some jurisdictions have implemented measures to curb encampments, others have resorted to broader camping bans or relocation efforts.

Baker Park in Grants Pass. Source: WorldMatrix

Concerns persist that a ruling in favor of Grants Pass may spur similar actions, exacerbating what Justice Sotomayor referred to as a “banishment race” if communities opt to push homeless individuals beyond their jurisdiction. Cities like Grants Pass argue that existing rulings have fueled encampment proliferation, yet the fundamental issue remains unaddressed: the dire shortage of shelter and affordable housing units, both locally and nationally. Grants Pass faces a deficit of 4,000 housing units, indicative of a broader crisis encompassing millions nationwide.