Home>Housing crisis>Petersen Reacts to SCOTUS Ruling on Tent Cities

Petersen Reacts to SCOTUS Ruling on Tent Cities

Vows to craft common sense legislation to fight the homelss crisis

By Steve Kirwan, July 1, 2024 5:00 am

On June 28, 2024, the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) overturned a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling blocking Oregon and its cities from enforcing laws prohibiting camping in public spaces. Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen, who submitted an amicus (friend of the court) brief supporting Oregon’s anti-tent city Supreme Court fight, subsequently released an official statement expressing satisfaction with the SCOTUS ruling.

The decision, overturning a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of “campers,” rejected a “bizarre” interpretation of the Eighth Amendment asserting a constitutional right to camp and sleep in public spaces. As a result, police in Oregon could not prohibit individuals from sleeping on sidewalks, in parks and playgrounds, and other public places. The ban on enforcing the state’s traditional health, safety, and welfare laws exacerbated criminality in the resultant “tent cities,” including drug abuse and violence. It also increased public health risks, including the spread of diseases associated with drug usage and unsanitary conditions.

States and cities, desperate to resolve growing homeless encampments negatively impacting communities, watched this case intently. In Arizona’s case, the significant impact on Phoenix and the surrounding cities prompted President Petersen to file the amicus brief. Phoenix faced severe backlash, including potential legal action, over disbanding “The Zone,” a massive 15-block area that consisted of over 1000 souls at its height.

In the majority opinion, the court noted two fatal flaws with the Ninth Circuit’s decision: improper jurisdiction and incorrect application of the Eighth Amendment. The court highlighted that managing the homeless crisis is reserved for state and local lawmakers and, as such, does not fall under SCOTUS’s jurisdiction. It also confirmed that clearing a homeless encampment by correctly applying the consequences for breaking state and local laws does not rise to “cruel and unusual” punishment.

Petersen stated, “This ruling is a victory in our state’s efforts to tackle the humanitarian crisis destroying lives and livelihoods within our communities on a daily basis. Our children shouldn’t be forced to walk to school on streets littered with needles, feces, and trash. The individuals camping out should be discouraged from this practice through enforceable laws and be provided with the mental health or substance abuse services they need to overcome this terrible situation.”

He continued, “Our Governor and other progressive elected officials serving in Arizona no longer have any excuses as to why we must continue to allow these encampments. We look forward to crafting common sense legislation on this matter in the near future, and for the Governor to do the right thing by signing those bills. While Arizona’s attorney general remains absent on these issues of grave importance to our state, the Legislature remains committed to defending our laws and fighting against both judicial and executive overreach.”

Petersen committed to passing statewide legislation codifying uniform laws on managing homeless encampments and outdoor camping in public spaces. However, state Democrats oppose any limits to the homeless living on the streets.

Shortly after the news of the decision broke, Rep. Analise Ortiz (D-24) posted on X, “This is horrific. And make no mistake: it WILL make homelessness worse as cities are now emboldened to continue doing the bare minimum to address this crisis. Housing solves homelessness, NOT criminalization.”

Maricopa County, Arizona’s largest (in population), currently estimates approximately 9500 homeless live on the streets, mainly in the city of Phoenix.

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