US Supreme Court declines to hear, overturn ruling that sparked Austin’s decriminalization of camping, sitting, lying down in public

Homeless encampments such as these were a point of major contention in Austin over the summer. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Homeless encampments such as these were a point of major contention in Austin over the summer. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Homeless encampments such as these were a point of major contention in Austin over the summer. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a case that ruled bans against sleeping, sitting and lying down in public—bans which directly impact the homeless—were a constitutional violation, according to court documents filed Dec. 16.

That ruling in question was a catalyst in Austin City Council’s controversial June decision to decriminalize the acts. Both the state of Texas and the Downtown Austin Alliance had signed on to support the attempt to have the Supreme Court review the ruling by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal in Martin v. City of Boise.

The Supreme Court provided no reason for denying the petition to hear the case. The Supreme Court’s decision to do nothing more with the case is a win for homeless advocates, who regularly pointed to the case in urging Austin City Council to decriminalize public camping, sitting and lying down.

A 2017 report from the city auditor’s office also pointed to the case, which said such bans were a violation of the Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment. The auditor’s report claimed if Austin upheld the bans, the city would be vulnerable to lawsuits.

City Council decided June 20 to lift bans on public camping, sitting and lying down throughout the city. The polarizing decision sparked a community dialogue focused almost exclusively on Austin’s homelessness challenges throughout the summer months. City Council has since adjusted the rules and implemented bans in specific situations.
By Christopher Neely

Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Su


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