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U.S. Supreme Court case on encampment sweeps mirrors a similar one in New Mexico’s high court

Last year, Albuquerque authorities closed an encampment in the city's Coronado Park
Gino Gutierrez
Source NM
Last year, Albuquerque authorities closed an encampment in the city's Coronado Park

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in a case to address whether or not people can be punished for living in encampments. The outcome could affect a similar case that has made it up to New Mexico’s Supreme Court.

The federal case centers on local ordinances in several Western communities, including Grants Pass, Oregon, that leverage fines and jail time for sleeping on public property.

Some people experiencing homelessness say that’s cruel and unusual punishment banned by the Constitution, especially when there aren’t enough shelter beds available.

“All the ordinances do is turn the city’s homelessness problem into someone else’s problem by forcing its homeless residents into other jurisdictions,” said Attorney Kelsi Corkran, who spoke on their behalf.

These arguments might sound familiar. The New Mexico Supreme Court is considering a similar case brought against the City of Albuquerque by residents experiencing homelessness.

Adam Flores is an attorney who represents the plaintiffs, and said the federal case doesn’t cancel out the New Mexico one, but it will impact how Flores and his colleagues argue it. He said the federal case can set the floor on what is protected by the constitution.

“No state nationwide will be able to go below what the federal cruel and unusual punishments clause protects under the Federal Constitution, but states under their state constitutions are free to provide more protection,” he said.

Last year, a preliminary court injunction related to the case barred the City of Albuquerque from clearing encampments on public property, with some exceptions. It also said the city couldn’t take people’s belongings without notice.

Residents experiencing homelessness and their advocates say the city has violated it regularly since it went into effect. City officials dispute that.

That injunction is in flux now because both parties have agreed to roll it back. The court is no longer preventing the city from forcing people to leave public property. It says it will release another order in the future to address what the city can and can’t do with the property of people in an encampment.

The New Mexico Supreme Court will likely rule on the case next year.

This coverage is made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners.

Megan Myscofski is a reporter with KUNM's Poverty and Public Health Project.
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