At right: Homeless — or just fashion-impaired?
Back in April, in Jones v. City of Los Angeles (PDF), the Ninth Circuit ruled that “a City of Los Angeles ordinance that criminalizes sitting, lying, or sleeping on public streets and sidewalks” violated the Eighth Amendment (specifically, its prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment). The ruling struck some as a bit dubious. E.g., Howard Bashman, Orin Kerr.
We’re a bit more sympathetic, however, to this recent ruling by a federal judge in Las Vegas:
A federal judge on Monday rejected the city’s ban on feeding poor or homeless people in city parks. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman had argued that handouts discourage homeless people from seeking help from social service providers set up to handle mental health and substance abuse problems….
But U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jones issued an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the ordinance, passed in July, and told lawyers for the city and the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada that he intends to issue an order killing the measure.
The ordinance in question prohibits “the providing of food or meals to the indigent for free or for a nominal fee.” It defines an “indigent person” as “a person whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive” public assistance.
We haven’t researched the issue. But the claim that this ordinance is unconstitutionally vague seems within the realm of possibility.
The ordinance turns on whether the person being fed “looks” homeless. And under this standard, taking law professors out for a picnic, or buying your blogger friend a hot dog, could get you arrested. That can’t be right!
(As the Supreme Court has held, any law that is bad and/or stupid is unconstitutional.)
Judge Nixes Las Vegas Homeless Food Ban [Associated Press]
Las Vegas Makes It Illegal to Feed Homeless in Parks [New York Times]
Arresting the Homeless Is Unconstitutional? Where the 9th Circuit Went Wrong [Law.com]