Fish & Richardson Files Amicus Briefs in Support of Homeless Rights in Landmark Supreme Court Case

Fish & Richardson has submitted two amicus briefs in support of the plaintiffs in the upcoming landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Grants Pass v. Johnson, the most significant case regarding homeless rights in the last 40 years.  

Grants Pass v. Johnson will address the critical issue of whether laws punishing unhoused individuals for sleeping outdoors with basic protections such as a pillow or blanket – when no safe and accessible shelter options are available – are violations of the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. 

Fish joins the National Homelessness Law Center (NHLC) and a broad coalition of over 1,000 organizations and public leaders who have together submitted nearly 40 amicus briefs in support of the rights of unhoused individuals across the country.  

Attorneys at Fish authored two briefs that argue that homelessness is typically an involuntary phenomenon, and often the result of macroeconomic factors. Criminalizing homelessness, the briefs argue, may actually exacerbate the problem by, for example, making it harder for unhoused individuals to maintain a stable address, find or keep a job, or seek needed medical assistance.   

“No one wants to be without a home or a safe shelter, but that is the reality for over half a million Americans,” said Lawrence Kolodney, chair of Fish’s pro bono program. “Our amicus briefs aim to shed light on the real-world consequences of laws that criminalize homelessness and on the ways in which such laws may, perversely, create a trap for those who find themselves unhoused, making it practically impossible for them to ever escape that condition. We hope that these briefs will help inform the Supreme Court’s analysis of the important constitutional issue before it, and illustrate for the Court how laws that criminalize homelessness may, perversely, lock people into homelessness indefinitely, while at the same time gratuitously punishing their plight.”  

Currently, more than 600,000 people in America experience homelessness on any given night, with nearly half—250,000—sleeping outside. The primary cause of the record levels of homelessness we see today is the unaffordable housing market, according to research from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. 

“This case challenges us to face the reality that using things like jails and fines does nothing to solve homelessness and actually make homelessness worse,” said Jesse Rabinowitz, campaign and communications director for NHLC. “Punishing our neighbors who have no choice but to sleep outside pushes them further into poverty and makes it harder to secure work and housing. The overwhelming support from a diverse array of organizations that we see in these amicus briefs underscores the need…to solve homelessness with housing and support, not make homelessness worse by using jail cells and bulldozers.”    

The briefs were authored by attorneys Ricardo Bonilla, David Conrad, Taylor Reeves, Vivian Chew Keller, Josie Little, Daniel Wade, Joon Chung, and Jeanel Sunga with administrative support from paralegals Megan O’Meara, Rachel Matthews, Kim Kilby, and Tiffany Johnson.

Fish attorneys are dedicated to serving the communities in which they live and work, and pro bono work is an integral part of the firm’s professional culture. In 2023, the firm made significant pro bono contributions, with Fish attorneys completing over 18,000 hours of pro bono service for the year. Fish believes that the practice of law is a privilege that carries with it the responsibility to provide pro bono legal services to those in need.