Grants Pass council president and her mother first in line, camping out on the edge of U.S. Supreme Court


Grants Pass City Council President Vanessa Ogier and her mom Cindy Ogier arrived Saturday in Washington, D.C., and snagged the first spot in line to camp outside the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping to be among those allowed in the limited public seating for Monday’s oral arguments on a case that originated in their hometown.

Lawyers for Grants Pass will urge Supreme Court justices to overturn a lower court’s ruling that barred the southern Oregon city of 40,000 from enforcing anti-camping regulations against “involuntary homeless” people who have nowhere else to go.

A decision, expected by the end of June, is expected to be one of the most significant rulings to address homelessness in more than four decades.

Vanessa Ogier, 31, and Cindy Ogier, 62, rented an Airbnb nearby and have taken turns maintaining their space. Sitting in camping chairs beside the hedge bordering the south edge of the courthouse, they were dressed in extra layers Sunday night under cloudy skies as the temperature was forecast to dip to the low 40s.

The elder Ogier said attending a Supreme Court hearing has always been on her bucket list and this one drew her because of the local connection and the issue’s complexity.

She said she opposes the use of the city’s parks for public camping and hopes for a humane solution, though isn’t sure what that is.

“It’s a hard one,” she said. “I don’t think anyone’s going to win.”

Council President Vanessa Ogier said she’s glad the Supreme Court agreed to review the lower court’s ruling, but directed any other questions to the city’s legal counsel. She said she’s been on the local council for four years but took the helm as its president in January.

Just before 7 p.m. Sunday, attorney Sybil Hebb arrived in the line, setting down her blue REI chair for the seventh spot.

Hebb is director of legislative advocacy for the Oregon Law Center, where her colleague, litigation director Ed Johnson initiated the case on behalf of a class of homeless people in Grants Pass.

Johnson helped Hebb get settled. Hebb wore a heavy down coat and scarf wrapped around her neck. She also brought an extra blanket and wore a gray knit hat with a LED light in the front.

“Oregonians are prepared,” Johnson quipped.

Johnson will be appearing before the Supreme Court for the first time since he interned there as an undergraduate in the summer of 1989. He said he’s already made sure that the charcoal-colored suit he’ll be wearing adheres to the Supreme Court’s dress code for lawyers who appear before it. (A guide for lawyers appearing before the court says the appropriate attire is “conservative business dress in traditional dark colors, e.g. navy blue or charcoal gray.”)

Hebb said the last time she slept out overnight to attend an event was for a Nine Inch Nails concert.

As she settled in, she chatted with her new neighbors in line – court watchers from the Philadelphia area — arranging with them ahead of time to keep an eye on each other’s belongings to take restroom breaks. They filled her in that the closest 24-hour restroom is in nearby Union Station, the city’s main train station.

Hebb and others packed more appropriate courtroom attire in their bags and planned to change if they got inside. She said she had a dress buried in the bottom of her backpack and expects that it will likely be full of wrinkles by morning.

A woman who gave her name as Maggie G. said she rode an Amtrak train from Seattle to attend the oral arguments and has been staying inside Union Station and sleeping on a camp mat near the National Mall since Thursday night, when she arrived after her five-day trip. She said police told her she could stay on a park bench from an hour after sunset to about 30 minutes before daylight.

She described herself as homeless and on Social Security disability while living in Port Townsend on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, where she attends city council meetings to advocate for homeless people.

“I am committed to this because it’s deplorable that we do not have the housing inventory needed in this country, and then police just go around and arrest people over and over and over again,” the 59-year-old woman said.

She said she took a shower at a local Methodist church and left her luggage at the Balance Gym Capitol Hill before joining the line outside the Supreme Court about 9 p.m. Sunday.

If she gets into the hearing, she’ll have pen and paper in hand to take notes and report back to her city council.

The Supreme Court’s website alerts visitors that some cases attract large crowds, with lines forming “well before the building opens” for the limited public seating.

As the sun set Sunday, the line was about 20 people long.

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