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WAGOP Response to the Major SCOTUS Ruling in the Grants Pass Case

Bellevue—Statement from Washington State Republican Party Chairman Jim Walsh on the U.S. Supreme Court’s City of Grants Pass v. Johnson decision:

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision in the Grants Pass case allows states and local governments to take effective action—and stop wasting taxpayer money—on homelessness. It’s a good and major decision.

When it comes to getting homeless people off the streets, local governments have been handcuffed by flawed lower-court decisions like Martin v. Boise. Worse, some left-wing activists have willfully misread Martin v. Boise to justify wasteful homeless-housing programs. Today’s Grants Pass decision clears up all that.

Specifically, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the opinion that enforcing state and local laws does not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Now, local government in Washington can enforce ordinances on camping, loitering, and sleeping on sidewalks and public parks. They can enforce common-sense laws. This is a good decision from the Supreme Court. And a good day for common sense and civility in Washington.

“Homelessness is complex. Its causes are many. So may be the public policy responses required to address it,” wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch in Grants Pass. “The question this case presents is whether the Eighth Amendment grants federal judges primary responsibility for assessing those causes and devising those responses. A handful of federal judges cannot begin to ‘match’ the collective wisdom the American people possess in deciding ‘how best to handle’ a pressing social question like homelessness. The Constitution’s Eighth Amendment serves many important functions, but it does not authorize federal judges to wrest those rights and responsibilities from the American people and in their place dictate this Nation’s homelessness policy.”

There’s an important indirect effect of the High Court’s opinion in Grants Pass. Gorsuch’s reasoning refutes one of the faulty premises of the “Housing First” approach to sheltering homeless people. Gorsuch writes that an addict’s use of illegal drugs is not a protected constitutional “status.” This rejects the main assumption of “Housing First” ideology: that an addict’s active use is a protected status and that the government must, therefore, provide shelter to active users. The Grants Pass decision allows government agencies to require homeless addicts to change their destructive behavior as a condition of shelter.

As we have seen in Seattle and other West Coast cities, “Housing First” has been an unmitigated failure, benefiting bureaucracies at taxpayer expense. The Grants Pass decision gives the people—acting through state and local agencies—the autonomy to do a better job of actually getting homeless people off of the streets. Bureaucrats in the “homeless industrial complex” are likely to whine otherwise. They’re wrong.

The WAGOP is hopeful the Grants Pass decision will begin to restore civil society after years of bad policy in WA. The decision aligns with the WAGOP’s Plan to tackle homelessness. We welcome all people of good will in Washington state to join us in taking effective action that actually gets homeless people off the streets.