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Blog Post | April 22, 2024

Amicus Spotlight: City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson

Ethics in GovernmentHousingJudiciarySupreme Court
Amicus Spotlight: City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson

An unholy coalition of right-wingers and California Democrats wants the Supreme Court to eviscerate the rights of homeless people.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Grants Pass v. Johnson, a highly-consequential case concerning the rights of homeless people. 

As Ian Milhiser writes in Vox, the case will decide whether municipal laws that ban homeless people from sleeping or camping outside on public property violate the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. The case’s origins, Milhiser’s colleague Rachel Cohen explains, trace back to a 2018 appeals court ruling that homeless people could not be punished for sleeping outside on public property if there are no adequate alternatives. The city of Grants Pass, Oregon, challenged that precedent after the Ninth Circuit ruled in September 2022 that the city’s “anti-sleeping” and “anti-camping” ordinances violated the Eighth Amendment. The Supreme Court announced in January 2024 it would hear Grant Pass’ appeal. 

Homelessness and criminal justice reform advocates are concerned the right-wing Roberts Court will not only use Grants Pass v. Johnson to criminalize being homeless, but also radically reinterpret the Eighth Amendment to overturn decades of precedent on what constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment.” As The Marshall Project warns, an expansive ruling in Grants Pass could have devastating ramifications for criminal defendants and prisoners, from gutting access to proper medical care in prison to expanding the use of the death penalty. 

The City of Grants Pass is represented in this case by Gibson Dunn, a notorious corporate law firm that also represents embattled software firm RealPage and previously represented Chevron in its smear campaign against human rights attorney Steven Donziger. An unusual coalition of conservative advocacy groups and powerful California Democrats are supporting Grants Pass in the case, filing over 30 amicus briefs urging the Supreme Court to overturn the Ninth Circuit’s ruling. 

An RDP review of amicus brief filings in Grants Pass v. Johnson finds at least 6 right-wing amicus filers have significant ties to conservative “court-whisperers”, such as the Koch network and Paul Singer

  • THE GOLDWATER INSTITUTE: The Goldwater Institute is an Arizona-based right-wing think tank named after former Senator Barry Goldwater. It has relentlessly targeted homeless encampments in Phoenix and attacked housing affordability policies like rent control.
    • The Charles Koch Institute has given the Goldwater Institute $1,161,500 since 2016, with over 95% of that money coming in 2020 and 2021. The Charles Koch Foundation also gave the Goldwater Institute $238,353 from 2004 to 2020. That includes $100,000 grants in 2016 and 2018. The Goldwater Institute is also an affiliate member of the Koch-linked State Policy Network.
  • U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the country’s largest lobbying group, representing some of Corporate America’s biggest price-gougers and repeat-offenders. The Chamber spends millions annually on federal lobbying and dark money political contributions to promote an anti-worker agenda.
    • The Charles Koch Foundation has given large amounts of money to bankroll the Chamber’s work, including a 2021 grant of $817,500 to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and a 2022 grant of $1.65 million to fund the Chamber’s JobSIDE initiative. 
    • Former Chamber president Thomas Donohue and current Chamber board member Frank VanderSloot are both members of the Horatio Alger Association, an exclusive circle of wealthy business elites that has lavished Clarence Thomas  with luxury gifts and received unprecedented access to the Supreme Court building. 

Other notable right-wing amicus filers in this case include:

  • REPUBLICAN MEMBERS OF CONGRESS: Six GOP House members from Oregon and California have signed a petitioner-side brief, claiming the Ninth Circuit’s opinion “strips their constituents’ ability” to “keep their public areas safe and enjoyable”. They include multimillionaire Darrell Issa (CA-48), Big Lie-believer Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), and Grants Pass representative Cliff Bentz (OR-02). 

Contempt for the unhoused has bipartisan crossover, with Democratic amicus filers including:

On the respondent-side of the case, over a thousand interested parties have filed over 40 amicus briefs supporting the plaintiffs, including 223 experts on unhoused youth, 57 published social scientists studying homelessness, leading members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, six Democratic state AGs, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Learn more about the right-wing moneyed interests influencing the Supreme Court through amicus briefs at SupremeTransparency.org.

Ethics in GovernmentHousingJudiciarySupreme Court

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