SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah Foundation joined 17 other states’ ACLU affiliates — and the national ACLU — in calling for the upholding of the Eighth Amendment in an Oregon Supreme Court case on Wednesday.

The ACLU of Utah and others submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the Supreme Court case of Grants Pass v. Johnson, in which the organizations argue the treatment of unhoused individuals is protected by the Eighth Amendment.

“Everyone in America is entitled to protections guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution,” Communications Director at the ACLU of Utah Aaron Welcher said. “These rights remain even amidst experiences of homelessness.”

The brief that the ACLU submitted said that “the original intent and meaning of the Eighth Amendment squarely protects unhoused people from the cruel and unusual punishment of being arrested or fined for simply existing.”

According to the organization, Grants Pass v. Johnson is a case dealing with an Oregon town that passed ordinances that are said to prohibit people from sleeping outside and using blankets, pillows or even cardboard.

The ACLU argued that the Eighth Amendment does not allow cities to punish people for sleeping in public if they do not have access to “adequate shelter.”

“The practice of ensnaring unsheltered individuals in the criminal legal system through arrests, citations, and fines perpetuates the cycle of poverty while trampling upon their civil rights and liberties,” Welcher said.

The ACLU said the broad language of the Eighth Amendment was meant to “embody the principle of proportionality” — meaning punishments should match the severity of a crime or offense.

“In Grants Pass, where the ‘offense’ involves sleeping outside where no alternative shelter exists, any punishment, including the fines and jail time imposed by Grants Pass, is plainly disproportionate,” the ACLU said.

According to the ACLU, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that criminal punishments against unhoused individuals violate the Eighth Amendment when there are no other areas or shelters for them to sleep.

“​​When applied to people with nowhere else to go, the ordinances in this case disproportionately punish unavoidable, life-sustaining, and fundamentally human acts. Punishing the most vulnerable among us for such behavior violates the Eighth Amendment.

Excerpt from the ACLU’s friend-of-the-court brief

The ACLU said the city of Grants Pass has argued that 30 days in jail and fines of hundreds of dollars are not cruel. The ACLU called that argument “twisted logic,” saying it ignores the Eighth Amendment’s ban on disproportionate punishment.

“We need a paradigm shift towards prioritizing housing over handcuffs, upholding the constitutional rights of all individuals, regardless of their housing status,” Welcher said.

In filing the brief, the ACLU of Utah joined the national ACLU and affiliates in Alaska, Arizona, Northern California, Southern California, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina and Washington.