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SCOTUS continues hearing oral arguments in the Grants Pass v. Johnson case

(NBC, KYMA/KECY) - The Supreme Court continues to hear oral arguments in the Grants Pass v. Johnson case, which could impact how cities are allowed to deal with homeless camps.

Dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court with signs reading "Housing Not Handcuffs" as justices heard arguments in a landmark case on the issue of homelessness.

"This is about humanity. It is about dignity. It's about all of us," said one advocate.

The case centers around Grants Pass, the southern Oregon city tried to block people from sleeping and camping in public spaces including sidewalks, streets and city parks.

At issue: Whether those rules violate constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. The case will decide whether local governments can enforce laws against people sleeping outside when there is no shelter space, and they have nowhere else to go.

A complex policy issue

"Where do put them if every city, every village, every town lacks compassion and passes a law identical to this? Where are they supposed to sleep?" asked Sonia Sotomayor, a Supreme Court Justice.

The justices repeatedly conceded that addressing homelessness is a complex policy issue, but some conservative members expressed doubt that a lawsuit was the best way to deal with it.

"We usually think about whether state law, local law already achieves those purposes so that the federal courts aren't micromanaging homeless policy," said Brett Kavanaugh, a Supreme Court Justice.

Officials across the political spectrum filed briefs in the case, saying lower court rulings have hamstrung their ability to deal with encampments.

They urged the justices to clarify the extent of their legal authority to clear encampments that have spread across across the west in cities big and small.

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