Newport officially seeks U.S. high court's help

Newport Beach on Thursday officially submitted a request for the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on whether an ordinance discriminates against residents of sober-living homes.

The petition is the latest move in a legal battle that has been waged since the ordinance's enactment in 2008.

Politicians and city staff crafted the rule after complaints from residents about a proliferation of homes that host groups of recovering addicts.

In April 2007, there were 73 such group homes in Newport Beach, according to the city. After the ordinance was introduced, that number dropped to the 20s.

Operators of the sober-living homes challenged the ordinance in court and lost.

But in September, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the case was improperly dismissed and could go to trial. The court cited pages of evidence submitted by plaintiffs that politicians and residents intended to drive out the group homes.

Newport Beach announced in March that it would appeal that decision.

To do so, the city allocated $280,000 to hire former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson — who has argued major Supreme Court cases such as Bush vs. Gore and Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission.

The petition prepared by Olson argues that the 9th Circuit's decision "creat[es] out of whole cloth a new type of discrimination claim," according to a news release from the city.

Newport Beach insists its ordinance is neutrally written and fairly enforced and should be judged on that basis regardless of any accusations about its intent.

"The ordinance respects residential recovery homes' right to operate under the ADA [the Americans with Disabilities Act] while protecting our neighborhoods and residents," Mayor Rush Hill said in a statement. "The group homes that exist in Newport Beach today are a testament to that. This law has worked. I am optimistic the Supreme Court will take note of that and help protect it."

The plaintiff has 30 days to submit its opposition.

Plaintiff's attorney Steven Polin said his team is reviewing the petition, but he believes the nature of the case makes it an unlikely candidate for the Supreme Court.

"This is a very fact-intensive case, where there was just overwhelming evidence of intentional discrimination," he said.

The court could consider Newport's petition as soon as September.

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