Lambda Legal, Juvenile Law Center Urge Supreme Court to Affirm Ruling Blocking Oregon City’s Draconian Ban Targeting the Unhoused

Lambda Legal,
Johnson V. Grants Pass social post

“This ban’s broad prohibitions are particularly dangerous for an especially vulnerable population – youth experiencing homelessness, who are disproportionately youth of color, LGBTQ+ youth, and youth with foster care experience.”  

(Washington, DC, April 22, 2024) – The United States Supreme Court heard oral argument today in City of Grants Pass v. Johnson, a challenge to a draconian ordinance that criminalizes people experiencing homelessness.  A U.S. District Court in July, 2020, blocked enforcement of the ban, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed that ruling in September, 2022. Lambda Legal, the Juvenile Law Center, the law firm Baker McKenzie, and 223 experts on unhoused youth submitted a friend-of-the-court brief underscoring the particular harm the unconstitutional ban posed to unhoused youth, many of whom face rejection and abuse at home and face additional barriers to accessing other housing.

“This ban’s broad prohibitions are particularly dangerous for an especially vulnerable population, youth experiencing homelessness who are disproportionately youth of color, LGBTQ+ youth, and youth with foster care experience,” said Currey Cook, Senior Counsel and Youth in Out-Of-Home Care Project Director, Lambda Legal. “As detailed in our amicus brief, LGBTQ+ youth make up a disproportionate percentage of youth experiencing homelessness. Ordinances such as the one passed in Grants Pass  harm youth and are counterproductive, offering nothing to help ensure youth have safe and sustainable housing. ”

“Against the backdrop of a severe national affordable housing crisis, the City of Grants Pass adopted a callous plan to ticket, fine, and jail everyone - including youth - forced to sleep outside with a blanket, a pillow, or any other basic covering,” said Jessica Feierman, Senior Managing Director at Juvenile Law Center. “Young people forced out of their homes by physical or sexual abuse, rejection by family members, or family mental or physical health challenges deserve support, not cruel punishment.”  

The Oregon Law Center filed the original class-action lawsuit challenging Grants Pass’s ordinance in 2018, claiming the ordinance violated the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The U.S. District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and enjoined enforcement of the ordinance. Grants Pass then sought review by the Supreme Court, which granted cert on January 12, 2024.

Read the amicus brief here. The brief was authored by: M. Currey Cook, Richard Saenz, and Karen L. Loewy of Lambda Legal; Marsha L. Levick, Vic F. Wiener, Jessica R. Feierman, Christopher Lin, and Breanne Schuster of Juvenile Law Center; and pro-bono co-counsel Angela C. Vigil, Andrea N. Rivers, Halli E. Spraggins, Catherine Y. Stillman, Nicholas O. Kennedy, Nicholas Decker, and Avi Toltzis of Baker & McKenzie LLP. 

About the Expert

Jessica Feierman oversees Juvenile Law Center’s projects and programs. Feierman currently leads a national effort to end fines and fees in the juvenile justice system and is engaged in litigation aimed at eliminating solitary confinement and other abusive practices in juvenile facilities.

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