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Amicus Brief

Johnson v. Grants Pass

Case Number


With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to deliver the most significant ruling in 40 years on the rights of people experiencing homelessness, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed an amicus brief defending their rights.

The amicus brief was filed in Johnson v. Grants Pass, which alleges that a public sleeping/camping law used against people experiencing homelessness in Grants Pass, Oregon, violates the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment. The law’s enforcement means that a person can be cited or arrested for the simplest of human functions – falling asleep with a covering as simple as a blanket.

The SPLC’s amicus brief – also known as a “friend-of-the-court brief” – supports the claims of the plaintiffs experiencing homelessness, who contend that such laws are unlawful status crimes. The city of Grants Pass argued that the history of vagrancy laws justifies their sleeping/camping law. The SPLC’s amicus brief, however, examines the pernicious history behind vagrancy laws, which were used as a tool of economic and racial subjugation, particularly in the U.S. Deep South. The SPLC argues that the U.S. Supreme Court has already rejected “archaic” vagrancy laws as having any place in a system governed by the rule of law. 

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2018, was taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court as other states, such as Georgia and Florida, pass legislation that ban camping or sleeping on public property even if people have no indoor alternatives.

The SPLC filed the amicus brief on behalf of itself and other nonprofit poverty law organizations in Florida that work on issues of housing and homelessness. Florida has the third-largest population of people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. It has the nation’s second-largest unsheltered homeless population – defined as people experiencing homelessness who are residing in a place not intended for habitation, such as a public park.

The Florida organizations represented by the brief include Southern Legal Counsel, Florida Justice Institute, Florida Legal Services, Community Justice Project, Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County and the Florida Housing Umbrella Group.