The Department of Justice is appealing a federal judge’s decision to vacate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s temporary federal eviction moratorium.
The court ruled the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s temporary eviction moratorium is unconstitutional.
The CDC under the Biden administration had sought to extend the eviction moratorium through June 30.
D.C. District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled Wednesday on the side of the plaintiffs, who alleged that the CDC overstepped its authority by extending the eviction moratorium — which was first included in the March CARES Act passed by Congress — to all residential properties nationwide.
“The pandemic has triggered difficult policy decisions that have had enormous real-world consequences. The nationwide eviction moratorium is one such decision,” Friedrich writes in an opinion.
“It is the role of the political branches, and not the courts, to assess the merits of policy measures designed to combat the spread of disease, even during a global pandemic,” Friedrich added.
“The question for the Court is a narrow one: Does the Public Health Service Act grant the CDC the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium? It does not,” he said.
Brian Boynton, acting assistant attorney general in charge of the DOJ’s civil division, said in a statement that the CDC’s eviction moratorium “protects many renters who cannot make their monthly payments due to job loss or health care expenses.”
“Scientific evidence shows that evictions exacerbate the spread of COVID-19, which has already killed more than half a million Americans, and the harm to the public that would result from unchecked evictions cannot be undone,” he added.
“The department has already filed a notice of appeal of the decision and intends to seek an emergency stay of the order pending appeal.”
Housing and Urban Development secretary Marcia Fudge said at a press conference Wednesday that the Biden administration has targeted billions of dollars of vouchers for those at risk and for cities to invest in housing.
“We know we have put enough money in the system through the rescue plan that people should come out of this June 30th, at least current[ly], and so that in itself is going to allow us hopefully to keep people in their homes, as well as those people who actually have homes through FHA or through the federal government,” she said.
Last month, U.S. District Judge J. Campbell Barker ruled against the CDC.
Barker ruled that an order from the CDC temporarily halting evictions amid the pandemic is unconstitutional.
Barker sided with a group of landlords and property managers who alleged in a lawsuit that the CDC’s eviction moratorium exceeded the federal government’s constitutional authority.
“Although the COVID-19 pandemic persists, so does the Constitution,” Barker wrote.
This lawsuit presents the question of whether the federal government has the authority to order property owners not to evict specified tenants. Plaintiffs argue that this authority is not among the limited powers granted to the federal government in Article I of the Constitution, and thus the decision whether to enact an eviction moratorium rests with a given State. Disagreeing, the federal government argues that a nationwide eviction moratorium is within Article I’s grant of federal authority to regulate commerce among the States.
The federal government cannot say that it has ever before invoked its power over interstate commerce to impose a residential eviction moratorium. It did not do so during the deadly Spanish Flu pandemic. Hr’g Tr. (Doc. 2 1 ) at 52:3 – 8 (government’s representation ). Nor did it invoke such power during the exigencies of the Great Depression. I d. The federal government has not claimed such a power at any point during our Nation’s history until last year. I d. at 55:9 – 17.
The CDC order was initially issued back in September, which generally made it a crime for property owners to evict tenants who were unable to pay rent and had no options for affordable housing.
Those protections were extended by Congress and later by the Biden administration last through March.
Barker ruled that Congress lacked the constitutional authority to grant CDC the power to halt evictions nationwide.
Barker also found that the CDC’s order threatened to encroach on landlords’ rights under state law.
The plaintiffs were represented by two conservative legal groups, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Southeastern Legal Foundation.