The U.S. Supreme Court can be seen in Washington, DC, on May 4, 2020.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
The Supreme Court late Thursday blocked the Centers for Disease Control from enforcing a federal moratorium on evicting tenants amid the Covid pandemic, defeating the Biden administration’s attempt to continue the moratorium despite an earlier decision. signal from the court that the government’s actions lacked the appropriate legal basis.
The current moratorium, which was imposed in early August, was due to expire in early October. It was challenged by a group of landlords who argued that the CDC had no authority to impose such a restriction on its own.
They said the land’s landlords are losing as much as $19 billion a month. “Congress has never given the CDC the staggering amount of power it claims,” the landlords argued in their Supreme Court filing.
In an unsigned opinion, six Supreme Court justices agreed. “It would be one thing if Congress specifically authorized the action the CDC took. But it didn’t. Instead, the CDC has imposed a nationwide moratorium on evictions based on a decades-old statute authorizing it to take measures such as fumigation and pest control.”
The advisory added, “It’s hard to believe that this statute gives the CDC the sweeping authority it claims.”
Congress imposed the first moratorium on evictions in March 2020 as part of the first coronavirus stimulus bill, the Cares Act. When that expired, the CDC issued its own moratorium at the direction of President Donald Trump, which was extended until the end of July. Following a lawsuit filed by the landlords, members of the Supreme Court declined to block it in June, but expressed concern.
Four judges said they would have granted the request to block the moratorium. Brett Kavanaugh said he had, but decided not to because it would only be a few weeks at the end of June at the time. He said only Congress can impose such a nationwide moratorium.
President Joe Biden initially said the court’s concerns meant the government did not have the authority to issue a new moratorium. But under pressure from Democrats, he ordered the CDC to release another new version anyway in August, arguing that the new version was different because it only applied in counties with a high rate of Covid transmission.
Justice Department lawyers told the Supreme Court that the trajectory of the pandemic had changed “unexpectedly, dramatically and for the worse” after the court weighed in on the issue in June. The seven-day average of daily new cases recently surpassed 130,000, an almost 10-fold increase from the previous month.
The court’s three liberals — Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — disagreed with Thursday’s order. While individual landlords said they’ve lost thousands of dollars in rental income, Congress has appropriated more than $46.5 billion to repay rent, Breyer wrote for the three.
“Compare that injury to the irreparable damage” of blocking the moratorium, Breyer said, with a spike in Covid-19 transmission rates.
The issue of the CDC’s authority is an important one and should not be treated in such a succinct way, especially given “how little we can presume to know about the course of this pandemic,” he wrote.
Half a dozen states have their own eviction moratoriums unaffected by the Supreme Court’s action — California, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Washington. The District of Columbia also has a local moratorium.