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The Supreme Court will consider Monday whether banning homeless people from sleeping outside when shelter space is lacking amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

The case is considered the most significant to come before the high court in decades on homelessness, which has reached record levels in the United States.

In California and other Western states, courts have ruled that it’s unconstitutional to fine and arrest people sleeping in homeless encampments if shelter space is lacking.

A cross-section of Democratic and Republican officials contend that makes it difficult for them to manage encampments, which can have dangerous and unsanitary living conditions.

But hundreds of advocacy groups argue that allowing cities to punish people who need a place to sleep will criminalize homelessness and ultimately make the crisis worse as the cost of housing increases.

Dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the court Monday morning with silver thermal blankets and signs like “housing not handcuffs.”

The Justice Department has also weighed in. It argues people shouldn’t be punished just for sleeping outside, but only if there’s a determination they truly have nowhere else to go.

The case comes from the rural Oregon town of Grants Pass, which started fining people $295 for sleeping outside to manage homeless encampments that sprung up in the city’s public parks as the cost of housing escalated.

The measure was largely struck down by the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which also found in 2018 that such bans violated the Eighth Amendment by punishing people for something they don’t have control over. The 9th Circuit oversees nine Western states, including California, which is home to about one-third of the nation’s homeless population.

The case comes after homelessness in the United States grew a dramatic 12%, to its highest reported level as soaring rents and a decline in coronavirus pandemic assistance combined to put housing out of reach for more Americans, according to federal data. The court is expected to decide the case by the end of June.


The Supreme Court on Wednesday made it easier for workers who are transferred from one job to another against their will to pursue job discrimination claims under federal civil rights law, even when they are not demoted or docked pay.

Workers only have to show that the transfer resulted in some, but not necessarily significant, harm to prove their claims, Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court.

The justices unanimously revived a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by a St. Louis police sergeant after she was forcibly transferred, but retained her rank and pay.

Sgt. Jaytonya Muldrow had worked for nine years in a plainclothes position in the department’s intelligence division before a new commander reassigned her to a uniformed position in which she supervised patrol officers. The new commander wanted a male officer in the intelligence job and sometimes called Muldrow “Mrs.” instead of “sergeant,” Kagan wrote.

Muldrow sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin. Lower courts had dismissed Muldrow’s claim, concluding that she had not suffered a significant job disadvantage.

“Today, we disapprove that approach,” Kagan wrote. “Although an employee must show some harm from a forced transfer to prevail in a Title VII suit, she need not show that the injury satisfies a significance test.”

Kagan noted that many cases will come out differently under the lower bar the Supreme Court adopted Wednesday. She pointed to cases in which people lost discrimination suits, including those of an engineer whose new job site was a 14-by-22-foot wind tunnel, a shipping worker reassigned to exclusively nighttime work and a school principal who was forced into a new administrative role that was not based in a school.

Although the outcome was unanimous, Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas each wrote separate opinions noting some level of disagreement with the majority’s rationale in ruling for Muldrow.

Madeline Meth, a lawyer for Muldrow, said her client will be thrilled with the outcome. Meth, who teaches at Boston University’s law school, said the decision is a big win for workers because the court made “clear that employers can’t decide the who, what, when, where and why of a job based on race and gender.”

The decision revives Muldrow’s lawsuit, which now returns to lower courts. Muldrow contends that, because of sex discrimination, she was moved to a less prestigious job, which was primarily administrative and often required weekend work, and she lost her take-home city car.


The Supreme Court on Wednesday made it easier for workers who are transferred from one job to another against their will to pursue job discrimination claims under federal civil rights law, even when they are not demoted or docked pay.

Workers only have to show that the transfer resulted in some, but not necessarily significant, harm to prove their claims, Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court.

The justices unanimously revived a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by a St. Louis police sergeant after she was forcibly transferred, but retained her rank and pay.

Sgt. Jaytonya Muldrow had worked for nine years in a plainclothes position in the department’s intelligence division before a new commander reassigned her to a uniformed position in which she supervised patrol officers. The new commander wanted a male officer in the intelligence job and sometimes called Muldrow “Mrs.” instead of “sergeant,” Kagan wrote.

Muldrow sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin. Lower courts had dismissed Muldrow’s claim, concluding that she had not suffered a significant job disadvantage.

“Today, we disapprove that approach,” Kagan wrote. “Although an employee must show some harm from a forced transfer to prevail in a Title VII suit, she need not show that the injury satisfies a significance test.”

Kagan noted that many cases will come out differently under the lower bar the Supreme Court adopted Wednesday. She pointed to cases in which people lost discrimination suits, including those of an engineer whose new job site was a 14-by-22-foot wind tunnel, a shipping worker reassigned to exclusively nighttime work and a school principal who was forced into a new administrative role that was not based in a school.

Although the outcome was unanimous, Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas each wrote separate opinions noting some level of disagreement with the majority’s rationale in ruling for Muldrow.

Madeline Meth, a lawyer for Muldrow, said her client will be thrilled with the outcome. Meth, who teaches at Boston University’s law school, said the decision is a big win for workers because the court made “clear that employers can’t decide the who, what, when, where and why of a job based on race and gender.”

The decision revives Muldrow’s lawsuit, which now returns to lower courts. Muldrow contends that, because of sex discrimination, she was moved to a less prestigious job, which was primarily administrative and often required weekend work, and she lost her take-home city car.


Europe’s highest human rights court ruled Tuesday that countries must better protect their people from the consequences of climate change, siding with a group of older Swiss women against their government in a landmark ruling that could have implications across the continent.

The European Court of Human Rights rejected two other, similar cases on procedural grounds — a high-profile one brought by Portuguese young people and another by a French mayor that sought to force governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But the Swiss case, nonetheless, sets a legal precedent in the Council of Europe’s 46 member states against which future lawsuits will be judged.

“This is a turning point,” said Corina Heri, an expert in climate change litigation at the University of Zurich.

Although activists have had success with lawsuits in domestic proceedings, this was the first time an international court ruled on climate change — and the first decision confirming that countries have an obligation to protect people from its effects, according to Heri.

She said it would open the door to more legal challenges in the countries that are members of the Council of Europe, which includes the 27 EU nations as well as many others from Britain to Turkey.

The Swiss ruling softened the blow for those who lost Tuesday.

“The most important thing is that the court has said in the Swiss women’s case that governments must cut their emissions more to protect human rights,” said 19-year-od Sofia Oliveira, one of the Portuguese plaintiffs. “Their win is a win for us, too, and a win for everyone!”

The court — which is unrelated to the European Union — ruled that Switzerland “had failed to comply with its duties” to combat climate change and meet emissions targets.

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