Sotomayor Slams Supreme Court for “Unconscionable” Homelessness Ruling

As Sotomayor wrote, imposing fines and jailing individuals is not a solution. In her dissent, which she read from the bench, the justice described a story of a homeless man in Nashville who was arrested 198 times and had over 250 citations, making it difficult for an outreach worker to find him housing. The outreach worker was eventually forced to make him a t-shirt that read, “Please do not arrest me, my outreach worker is working on my housing.” Once the man, who experienced homelessness for 20 years, was able to secure stable housing, he “had no further encounters with the police, no citations, and no arrests.”

If criminalizing someone for the mere act of sleeping outside with a blanket wasn’t frightening enough, as some experts feared, this case also opens up the door for justices to challenge a concurring opinion, Robinson v. California, which held it was unconstitutional to punish someone for being addicted to drugs–for their “status” of addiction. Justice Clarence Thomas’s entire concurring opinion lays the groundwork to overturn Robinson.

Despite the conservative majority disguising itself as a “leave it to states” approach, this ruling, as Sotomayor laid out, is an infringement on homeless individuals’ constitutional rights with troubling ripple effects for all of us. “This Court must safeguard those rights even when, and perhaps especially when, doing so is uncomfortable or unpopular,” wrote Sotomayor, Otherwise, “‘the words of the Constitution become little more than good advice.’”