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Nine Hacks in Robes


I am somewhat ambivalent about the case where the Court decided that Grants Pass, Oregon could bar people from sleeping outdoors in the city. This case split usual allies, as west coast politicians of all stripes have to deal with the reality of tent cities popping up all over the place with all that means (needles, feces, trash). Banning homelessness doesn’t actually solve anything of course, but from the perspective of a small town like Grants Pass, options are pretty limited when the state decriminalizes drugs and you have amazing weather.

But what I took from reading about the case is what I usually take from the Court–there’s nothing principled about any of them at all. They are all–liberal, conservative, and fascist–utter hacks who just find constitutional precepts for their own personal political positions. Does the ban on homelessness violate the 8th Amendment? I don’t know how you even answer that, but for the justices, it was just an excuse for them to rule based on their own opinions on the issue.

The ruling, by a 6-to-3 vote, split along ideological lines, with Justice Neil M. Gorsuch writing for the majority. The laws, enacted in Grants Pass, Ore., penalize sleeping and camping in public places, including sidewalks, streets and city parks.

In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson, wrote that the decision would leave society’s most vulnerable with fewer protections.

She added that the laws, which impose fines and potential jail time for people “sleeping anywhere in public at any time, including in their cars, if they use as little as a blanket to keep warm or a rolled-up shirt as a pillow,” punished people for being homeless.

“That is unconscionable and unconstitutional,” Justice Sotomayor wrote. She read her dissent from the bench, a rare move that signals profound disagreement.

The Supreme Court agreed to intervene after an unusual coalition urged the justices to consider the case. State legislators in Republican-led states like Arizona and liberal leaders like Gov. Gavin Newsom of California alike have pointed to a crucial court ruling in 2018 that they say has tied their hands from clearing encampments and managing a growing, and increasingly visible, crisis.

The decision, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which covers Western states, first declared it cruel and unusual punishment for cities and states to penalize someone for sleeping outdoors if no shelter beds were available.

In California alone, an estimated 171,000 people are homeless, or nearly one-third of the country’s homeless population. There are now 40,000 more people who are homeless in the state than there were six years ago, and tents and encampments are common in many parts of the state.

The short version is that Sotomayor thinks this is evil and Gorsuch thinks it is good. That’s it. What the Constitution has to do with any of that, I don’t know. What I do know is that the entire idea of a Supreme Court is a complete disaster and I hate this institution very, very much. Why nine hacks should be our godkings is a question I wish more people asked.

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