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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

Arkansas and Oklahoma join coalition of states seeking control of public land as homeless camps

(The Center Square) – A group of 20 attorneys general, including those from Arkansas and Oklahoma, want the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule a lower court's restrictions on local governments enforcing homeless camping bans.

In their petition regarding Johnson v. City of Grants Pass, the attorneys general wrote that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was wrong to prohibit state and local governments from enforcing laws that bar public spaces from being used as homeless encampments.

“The Constitution nowhere strips States of the power to regulate use of public spaces,” the attorneys general wrote. “It empowers States and guarantees an inviolable sovereignty meant to address local issues like homelessness.” Meanwhile, the attorneys general said the 9th Circuit “relied on this Court’s ‘evolving standards of decency’ jurisprudence,” something they said “lacks textual, historical, or structural support.”

“The Court should put that troublesome jurisprudence to bed once and for all,” they added. In 2018, the 9th Circuit ruled that the Eighth Amendment allows for the right to sleep and camp in public spaces. Earlier this year, the appeals court held that the amendment also prevents fines for people “engaging in involuntary, unavoidable life-sustaining acts.”

However, the attorneys general argue that cities – especially those across the western U.S – are having a difficult time combating homelessness because of the ruling.

“When it comes to public encampments, States have significant land interests,” the attorneys general said. “States regulate public encampments to protect natural resources, prevent wildfires, preserve the value of recreation, and maintain an area’s dignity and public value.

The petition was filed by attorneys general from Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom also submitted a brief for the Supreme Court to review the case.

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