Former San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, now a professor at UC Berkeley School of Law, joined with a group of Bay Area lawyers in an amicus brief filed Tuesday in the Oregon case about penalizing homeless camping that the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on later this month.

The case, as reported here earlier, is Johnson v. City of Grants Pass, and was brought by two unhoused plaintiffs against the small Oregon town of Grants Pass. It contents that the city's ordinances against public camping within city limits, or the use of blankets or cardboard to protects oneself from the elements, is unconstitutional, and the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the plaintiffs saying that they should not be penalized for being "involuntarily homeless."

Underpinning the case is an earlier, 2018 ruling by the Ninth Circuit in Martin v. Boise that broadly declared punitive actions against the homeless unconstitutional if a city could not provide adequate shelter for all who need it. The Supreme Court, prior to its current conservative super-majority, declined to hear an appeal in that case in 2019.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the Oregon case in January, and Mayor London Breed and City Attorney David Chiu, along with Governor Gavin Newsom and multiple other California cities, have already filed their own amicus curiae briefs urging the court to overturn the Ninth Circuit's ruling — essentially saying that the law has hamstrung state and city efforts to address the homelessness crisis, in particular the nuisance of sidewalk camping.

The latest amicus curiae brief was filed by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCRSF), on behalf a host of local "amici," or friends of the court, including Boudin; SF Public Defender Mano Raju; Damon Bennett, the former supervisor of the Homeless Encampment Resolution Team; and a host of local advocacy and political organizations including the San Francisco Labor Council, the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, Democratic Socialists of America SF, and the San Francisco Tenants Union.

In a release today, LCCRSF says that their brief contends that SF and other California cities have "unfairly scapegoated unhoused residents for an affordable housing crisis that State and local governments created with decades of virulently racist anti-housing policies."

The brief asserts that state and local officials have cynically used the Grants Pass case to throw up their hands and foist blame on the judiciary for the intractable homeless crisis.

"This is political theatre," the brief states. "Nothing stops California from investing in affordable housing and emergency shelter for thousands of its residents forced to sleep outside."

The brief also contends that laws against public camping equate to the "draconian" laws of the past that persecuted people for their poverty.

"This form of public banishment harkens the draconian penalties of Ancient Greece and was repudiated across the United States long ago," the lawyers write.

Boudin spoke during a virtual press conference today, hosted by LCCRSF, that you can watch in full below.

"What we are seeing from San Francisco elected officials in this moment and on this issue is fear-mongering, misinformation, and political theater that is holding San Francisco back from actually addressing what are very real problems impacting all of us," Boudin said. "It is shocking to me... that we are now before the Trump-dominated Supreme Court on this issue, and we're there in part because California leaders who are perfectly clear on what the law is and say that they agree with it, simply do not want to take accountability for their actions, or be held accountable by their constituents for their intentional and systematic failure to implement policies that solve homelessness."

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments in the case on April 22, and the conservative majority is widely expected to rule, at least in part, in favor of the defendant, the City of Grants Pass — likely defining for years to come how and when cities can enforce vagrancy and public-space camping laws.

"The stakes are extremely high in the case pending before the Supreme Court," Boudin says. "We all know what the likely outcome is supposed to be."

Meanwhile, a decision is still pending from U.S. District Court Judge Donna Ryu, who issued an injunction against the City of San Francisco a year and a half ago in a related case brought by the Coalition on Homelessness and the ACLU. That injunction aimed to stop the city from clearing encampments from the street so long as adequate shelter was not available for everyone, but the Ninth Circuit issued a partial ruling last year that the city has interpreted to mean that encampments can be cleared in cases where individuals are not "involuntarily" homeless, and refuse offers of shelter.

Ryu may be waiting to rule in the case, pending a Supreme Court ruling in the Grants Pass case.

"San Francisco has more permanent supportive housing per capita than any other city in the country besides Washington DC," Mayor London Breed said last year in reference to these cases. "San Francisco was one of the few cities in California that saw a reduction in homelessness between 2019 and 2022... But despite all of this work, some have attacked us and sued us over our homelessness policies. This obstruction has not helped get more people into housing or shelter."

Previously: Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Case on Homeless Encampment Sweeps

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images