The Supreme Court late Thursday ruled against the national eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying the health agency exceeded its authority in issuing the ban.
The ruling ends protracted litigation between the Biden administration and the Alabama Association of Realtors who have been fighting for months against the CDC’s ban on evictions.
The moratorium was originally put in place by Congress last year, but that elapsed in July. Then-President Donald Trump then tapped the CDC in September to prohibit evictions. The agency extended the ban in March and again in June, with the White House vowing not to extend again when it expired on July 31.
The CDC later issued a narrower, more targeted eviction ban.
“If a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it,” the high court said in its ruling, with its three liberal judges dissenting.
A district court ruled in favor of the realtors and vacated the moratorium on the grounds it was unlawful, a ruling that was overturned on appeal.
In late June, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against the Alabama landlords, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh writing that the CDC exceeded its authority. However, he voted to allow the ban to stand since it was scheduled to expire in a few weeks’ time, which would allow for additional distribution of Congress-approved rental assistance.
In its opinion on Thursday, the high court said the government has had three months since the district court ruling to distribute rental assistance funds, and in that time the harm to the realtors has increased while the interests of the government’s have decreased.
“Whatever interest the government had in maintaining the moratorium’s original end date to ensure the orderly administration of those programs has since diminished,” it wrote. “And Congress was on notice that a further extension would almost surely require new legislation, yet it failed to act in the several weeks leading up to the moratorium’s expiration.”
The justices said the issue would be wholly different if Congress had specifically authorized the action and not the CDC, which used a decades-old statute that gives it the power to implement measures, such as fumigation and pest extermination, to do so.
“It is indisputable that the public has a strong interest in combating the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant,” the justices said, referring to the highly contagious strain of the coronavirus spreading throughout the country. “But our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends.”
Writing on behalf of the dissenting judges, Justice Stephen Breyer said the court expedited its ruling without a full briefing on the arguments on a decision that will affect millions.
Breyer said they disagree with the decision as it is unclear that the CDC lacked the authority to issue the moratorium, the balance of equities favors leaving it in place and public interest “is not favored by the spread of disease or a court’s second-guessing of the CDC’s judgement.”
“These questions call for considered decision-making, informed by full briefing and argument,” he said. “Their answers impact the health of millions. We should not set aside the CDC’s eviction moratorium in this summary proceeding.”
The White House late Thursday said it was “disappointed” in the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“As a result of this ruling, families will face the painful impact of evictions, and communities across the country will face greater risk of exposure to COVID-19,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
“In light of the Supreme Court ruling and the continued risk of COVID-19 transmission, President [Joe] Biden is once again calling on all entities that can prevent evictions — from cities and states to local courts, landlords, cabinet agencies — to urgently act to prevent evictions.”
Bob Pinnegar, president and chief executive of the National Apartment Association, said he was “pleased” with the ruling, urging the government to instead deal with the “debt tsunami” affecting renters and landlords.
“Though the moratorium is lifted, it is important to remember that billions in debt remain on renters’ records and housing providers’ shoulders — it is past time to focus on the most sustainable path forward of full rental assistance funding and streamlined distribution,” he said in a statement. “Only be moving past moratoriums can we ensure America’s 40 million renters have affordable homes today, tomorrow and in the future.”
Meanwhile Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., who protested the moratorium’s expiration for five days outside the Capitol, said they aren’t done fighting.
“If they think this partisan ruling is going to stop us from fighting to keep people housed, they’re wrong,” she said. “Congress needs to act immediately. For every unhoused or soon to be unhoused person in our districts.”
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