Friday, March 15, 2013


US Supreme Court has been asked to rule on a 9th Circuit decision banning Los Angeles from seizing property of the homeless

by Larry Geller

Even as the Honolulu City Council is contemplating new ordinances to permit the city to immediately seize property of homeless citizens camped on sidewalks, those ordinances could be illegal under a 9th Circuit ruling already on the books.

Los Angeles asked the US Supreme Court in late February to rule on the 9th Circuit ban. Hawaii is also part of the 9th Circuit and subject to its decisions.

The greater Los Angeles area has one of the nation's largest populations of homeless people, and the city's legal fight is seen as having implications for how other municipalities deal with transients.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld a lower court ruling that found the city may not take homeless people's property under provisions of the U.S. Constitution that protect against unreasonable search and seizure and uphold the right to due process before being deprived of property.

[Reuters, Los Angeles asks Supreme Court to overturn ban on Skid Row seizures, 2/28/2013]

The City Council debate could simply run up more legal costs for taxpayers if it results in a law that contradicts the 9th Circuit ruling.

Wikipedia has a bit about the Los Angeles case:

In April, 2006, Edward Jones and the ACLU sued the City of Los Angeles, on behalf of Robert Lee Purrie and five other homeless, for the city's violation of the 8th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, sections 7 and 17 of the California Constitution (supporting due process and equal protection and prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment). The Court ruled in favor of the ACLU, stating that, "the LAPD cannot arrest people for sitting, lying, or sleeping on public sidewalks in Skid Row." Enforcement of section 41.18(d) 24 hours a day against persons who have nowhere to sit, lie, or sleep other than on public streets and sidewalk is breaking these Amendments. The Court said that the anti-camping ordinance is "one of the most restrictive municipal laws regulating public spaces in the United States." The Court said of homeless, "14% are victims of domestic violence."

There is more discussion in the Wikipedia article, but I have not yet had a chance to look up the text of the 9th Circuit decision. It appears, though, that the Court had some compassion for the plight of those forced to live in the streets. Unfortunately, 9th Circuit compassion is not binding on the City of Honolulu.

Honolulu is already defending an active court challenge brought by (de)Occupy to its allegedly illegal confiscation and destruction of personal property during its numerous sweeps. The destruction, which is contrary to the city’s own ordinance and likely unconstitutional, has been documented in several videos. It has also been ineffective.


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