The Supreme Court has, predictably, ruled in favor of the city of Grants Pass, Oregon, weighing in for the first time on the issue of homelessness and how cities and states may legally enforce laws around public camping.

The court was divided along ideological lines, with the six-justice conservative majority ruling that a law prohibiting public camping in Grants Pass does not violate the Eighth Amendment, which protects against cruel and unusual punishment. This will be seen as a victory not only by city and state officials in liberal California, but also those in conservative parts of Arizona and elsewhere — with an unusual coalition having formed to push back on what some say was overreach by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in its 2018 decision in Martin v. Boise.

An amicus brief filed in the case by San Francisco Mayor London Breed gets quoted heavily in the majority's decision, which was written by Justice Neil Gorsuch. San Francisco has gone to battle over an injunction imposed by a district court judge two Decembers ago that prevented city workers from clearing homeless encampments, citing Martin, and Breed's amicus brief complained of this.

"Consider San Francisco, where each night thousands sleep 'in tents and other makeshift structures,'" Gorsuch writes in the majority opinion, citing the brief. "Applying Martin, a district court entered an injunction barring the city from enforcing 'laws and ordinances to prohibit involuntarily homeless individuals from sitting, lying, or sleeping on public property.'"

Gorsuch goes on the quote Breed's brief, which said that the city uses its anti-camping laws "not to criminalize homelessness" but "to encourage individuals experiencing homelessness to accept services" and to keep public spaces and sidewalks clear.

The majority opinion also rejects an argument, presented by plaintiffs in the Grants Pass case, that the status of homelessness should be compared to the status of drug or alcohol addiction, which can't be criminalized under a Supreme Court precedent known as Robinson v. California, in which the punishment for the illness of addiction itself was ruled unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. Gorsuch argues, as several justices did during oral arguments, that there is a difference between punishment for a status and punishment for actions related to that status, like camping or sleeping on a public sidewalk. Cities need to be able to enforce such laws for a multitude of reasons, Gorsuch writes, including public health concerns and protecting the ability of the disabled to navigate a city street without obstruction.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered her dissent from the bench Friday, an unusual move that is reserved only for the most vigorous and empassioned of dissents.

"Sleep is a biological necessity, not a crime. For some people, sleeping outside is their only option," Sotomayor begins in her dissent, which was joined by Justice Kagan and Justice Jackson. "Punishing people for their status is 'cruel and unusual' under the Eighth Amendment."

Sotomayor continues, "It is possible to acknowledge and balance the issues facing local governments, the humanity and dignity of homeless people, and our constitutional principles. Instead, the majority focuses almost exclusively on the needs of local governments and leaves the most vulnerable in our society with an impossible choice: Either stay awake or be arrested."

Sotomayor calls the decision "unconscionable and unconstitutional."

Homeless advocates have been quick to denounce the decision, as Cal Matters reports.

"The Supreme Court decision in the Johnson v. Grants Pass case is devastating and will have disastrous consequences for unhoused individuals across the country," says Jennifer Hark Dietz, CEO of the organization PATH.

Governor Gavin Newsom, meanwhile, praised the ruling, saying, "This decision removes the legal ambiguities that have tied the hands of local officials for years and limited their ability to deliver on common-sense measures to protect the safety and well-being of our communities."

"This decision by the Supreme Court will help cities like San Francisco manage our public spaces more effectively and efficiently," says Mayor London Breed in a statement. "San Francisco has made significant investments in shelter and housing, and we will continue to lead with offers of services from our hard-working City employees. But too often these offers are rejected, and we need to be able to enforce our laws, especially to prevent long-term encampments. This decision recognizes that cities must have more flexibility to address challenges on our streets."

Breed adds, "We will now adjust our city policies to be in line with the ruling by the Supreme Court. We have been working with the City Attorney and City staff on potential outcomes prior to the ruling, and now we will review this final decision with the City Attorney’s Office before announcing and implementing our new policies."

Update: SF City Attorney David Chiu has issued a statement about the ruling, saying, in part, "San Francisco has and will continue to take a compassionate, services-first approach to addressing our homelessness crisis. It will take time to analyze this decision and chart a path forward to change policies on the ground and ensure our litigation catches up with the Supreme Court’s decision today. However, the Supreme Court’s decision will give cities more flexibility to provide services to unhoused people while keeping our streets healthy and safe. It will help us address our most challenging encampments, where services are often refused and re-encampment is common."

Previously: Supreme Court Sounds Inclined to Allow Cities to Clear Homeless Encampments, Enforce Camping Laws