FILE - In this Aug. 4, 2021, file photo, housing advocates protest on the eviction moratorium in New York. The Supreme Court is allowing evictions to resume across the United States, blocking the Biden administration from enforcing a temporary ban that was put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. Roughly 3.5 million people in the United States said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to Census Bureau data from early August. (AP Photo/Brittainy Newman, File)

Supreme Court blocks Biden administration’s latest ban on evictions

The Supreme Court on Thursday lifted the Biden administration’s newest federal ban on evictions, granting a bid from a group of landlords to block the pandemic-related protections for renters in most of the country facing eviction.

In an unsigned opinion with the three liberal justices in dissent, the divided court said that “careful review” of the case “makes clear that the applicants are virtually certain to succeed on the merits of their argument that the CDC has exceeded its authority.”

“It would be one thing if Congress had specifically authorized the action that the CDC has taken. But that has not happened,” the court said. “Instead, the CDC has imposed a nationwide moratorium on evictions in reliance on a decades-old statute that authorizes it to implement measures like fumigation and pest extermination. It strains credulity to believe that this statute grants the CDC the sweeping authority that it asserts.”

The court said that “if a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it.”

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer noted the recent spike in COVID-19 transmission rates and warned that allowing evictions to resume could have dangerous public-health consequences.

“The CDC targets only those people who have nowhere else to live, in areas with dangerous levels of community transmission,” wrote Breyer, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. “These people may end up with relatives, in shelters, or seeking beds in other congregant facilities where the doubly contagious Delta variant threatens to spread quickly.”

The questions raised by the case, Breyer continued, “call for considered decisionmaking, informed by full briefing and argument,” and “their answers impact the health of millions.”

The landlords and real estate agents from Alabama and Georgia asked the high court last week to halt the latest iteration of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) moratorium on certain residential evictions, returning a battle over the ban to the Supreme Court for the second time.

The landlords argued the CDC’s ban, issued following a public protest from some congressional Democrats, was “intended to buy time to distribute rental assistance and mollify certain” lawmakers and warned the ban was harming landlords, who are losing up to $19 billion each month.

“Unless this court vacates the stay — and does so promptly — Congress will know that it can legislate through pressure campaigns and sit-ins rather than bicameralism and presentment, the Executive Branch will know that it can disregard the views of a majority of justices with impunity, and this court will know that its carefully considered rulings will be roundly ignored,” they told the court.

But the Biden administration had urged the justices to leave the ban untouched, telling the Supreme Court that since the CDC last indicated it would end the eviction moratorium July 31, “the trajectory of the pandemic has since changed — unexpectedly, dramatically, and for the worse” because of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Initially issued by the Trump administration in September 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and extended several times, the Supreme Court kept the CDC’s earlier eviction ban in place with a 5-4 decision in late June. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who provided the crucial fifth vote, said he believed the health agency likely exceeded its statutory authority by issuing the nationwide moratorium, yet left the order untouched because it was set to expire July 31.

Days before the moratorium was set to end, the White House said the CDC would not issue another extension and urged Congress to take action. But lawmakers failed to do so, and the eviction ban lapsed. In protest of the expiration, Democratic Congresswoman Cori Bush of Missouri slept outside the U.S. Capitol to pressure the Biden administration to grant renters a reprieve as the Delta variant led to a spike in coronavirus infections.

Mr. Biden initially rebuffed the calls for him to act, saying his administration would be unable to extend the protections for renters in light of the Supreme Court’s decision. But congressional Democrats continued their pressure campaign, and the CDC ultimately issued a new ban in areas of “substantial and high” levels of COVID-19 transmission until October 3, which covered more than 90% of the country.

Mr. Biden acknowledged the new moratorium may not pass constitutional muster, but told reporters that “by the time it gets litigated, it will probably give some additional time while we’re getting that $45 billion out to people who are, in fact, behind in the rent and don’t have the money.”

Congress provided $46 billion for rental assistance in two COVID-19 relief packages, but the aid has been slow to reach renters struggling to pay rent during the pandemic. The Treasury Department said Wednesday that just $5.1 billion has been disbursed so far, with 89% of the money approved by Congress for the federal rental aid program not yet distributed.

The most recent order from the CDC prompted another round of legal challenges, with the landlords from Alabama and Georgia again asking a federal court in the District of Columbia to halt the moratorium.

A U.S. district judge declined to put the eviction ban on hold, but questioned its legal footing. A three-judge panel on the federal appeals court in D.C. also allowed the moratorium to remain in place.

Author: MELISSA QUINN/ CBS News
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