The Roberts Court dodges responsibility

"Why would you think that these nine people are the best people to judge and weigh those policy judgments?" Chief Justice Roberts's question is a good one!

Happy to make decisions about women's health care, this non-expert panel of the country's supreme experts on cruel and unusual punishment seems not to understand their role. While Justice Kagan seemed aware of what was at stake, the Chief Justice sounded like he just wanted to go home.

During Monday's arguments, the Supreme Court's more liberal justices suggested this amounts to unlawfully targeting people simply because they're homeless. "You don't arrest babies who have blankets over them. You don't arrest people who are sleeping on the beach," said Justice Sotomayor.

Justice Kagan said sleeping is not a criminal act. "Sleeping is a biological necessity. It's sort of like breathing. … But I wouldn't expect you to criminalize breathing in public."

But the court's conservative justices said it can be hard to draw the line between someone's conduct — which can be legally punished — and a status they are unable to change — which cannot be punished. "How about if there are no public bathroom facilities?" Justice Gorsuch asked. "Do people have an Eighth Amendment right to defecate and urinate? Is that conduct or is that status?"

Over and over, conservative justices also said homelessness is a complex policy problem and questioned whether courts like theirs should "micromanage" it.


Previously: Supreme court justice cites Dr. Seuss