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A Federal Judge Has Appointed Himself Czar of the Los Angeles Homelessness Crisis (Washington Examiner) April 28, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

By all accounts, federal judge David O. Carter is a great guy with a passion for helping the homeless in Los Angeles. It would help if he were Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, able to fund the major philanthropic effort needed for the L.A. homeless. If he were mayor of L.A., or even an L.A. County supervisor, he could use the mantle of political leadership to tackle the problem.

But Carter is not any of those things. He is, rather, a federal judge. In a recent order, Carter commanded that $1 billion be set aside by the city of Los Angeles to house every homeless person on skid row by October 18 of this year. The city has 60 days to give the judge a plan on how this is to be done. Ironically, Mayor Eric Garcetti had announced what seemed like a staggering $1 billion budget for L.A.’s larger homeless crisis (not just skid row) the day before, and those plans are now cast into uncertainty by the sweeping order of a single federal judge.

When you hear the expression judicial activism or judicial overreach, you should now think of Judge Carter. Especially following the pandemic, homelessness has grown into a major national problem, with California leading the way. All kinds of policy players, the federal government, the state, the county, the city, regional nonprofit organizations, and foundations, have taken up the cause. And now an unelected judge enters the fray.

Mr. Big Stuff, who do you think you are, the old song rightly asks.

Courts were intended to be brakes, not engines of change. Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 78 that the Judiciary, having neither the power of the purse nor the sword, would be the “least dangerous branch.” Courts are meant to resolve legal problems, not become the policymakers to oversee social change. They are to find the synthesis, not to stake out a thesis or antithesis. Carter finds authority to act because he believes the city has created the problem. Los Angeles, he says, has driven homeless people out of other parts of the city to skid row through its land use policies. Homelessness is far more complicated than land use, however. When you start with fabulous Southern California weather, add in immigration issues, and all the problems of urban areas, then quadruple it all with a pandemic, this is not simply a land use problem.

Beyond the question of who decides homelessness policy, the problems with Carter’s approach are legion. Although it is obvious in his 110-page decision that he has lost patience with Los Angeles, his timeline for action is way too short. If followed, it will necessarily incentivize short-term solutions over longer-term policies. The area of impact is also way too small. Los Angeles has some 66,000 homeless overall, with 15,000 chronically homeless. One study suggests that may grow by 86% over the next 4 years. Although skid row has serious problems, it is home to only 5000 or so people. As social service agencies have experienced, not all homeless people even want or will accept shelter offered to them.

So here we are with a major, complex social problem, with every manner of government, social, and philanthropic agency seeking to address it, and one judge says he has the answer. Not only that, but he plans to force his answer into action within mere months. Carter’s decision should be and will be appealed. If it is not turned back, you can only imagine the problems that government has arguably created, from climate change to racial injustice and beyond, that will now be subject to judicial czars. What then of democracy?

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


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