A divided U.S. Supreme Court lifted the Biden government's eviction moratorium, ending protection for millions of people who defaulted on their rent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The conservatively controlled court said late Thursday that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was not empowered to impose the moratorium under the decade-old federal law that the agency relied on. The decision is made amid an increase in COVID cases across the country.
“It would be one thing if Congress specifically approved the CDC's actions. But that didn't happen, "the court said in an unsigned statement. "It weighs gullibility to believe that this statute gives the CDC the extensive authority it claims."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the government was disappointed with the decision and praised the CDC's eviction moratoria on saving lives.
"As a result of this ruling, families are facing the painful effects of evictions and communities across the country are at greater risk of being exposed to COVID-19," Psaki said in a statement Thursday evening.
Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor disagreed with the court, accusing the court of ruling the matter without full disclosure and reasoning.
"The public interest speaks strongly in favor of respecting the CDC's judgment at this moment, as over 90% of the counties have high transmission rates," wrote Breyer for the group. "That number is the highest since at least last winter."
The ruling marks the conservatively controlled court's second blow to Biden this week. On Tuesday, the judges put a ruling in force requiring the government to reinstate former President Donald Trump's "stay in Mexico" policy, which requires asylum seekers to wait in that country while their cases are processed.
Inaction by Congress
The court had left a previous CDC moratorium intact in June, but Judge Brett Kavanaugh said at the time that any further extension would require Congressional approval.
Congress failed to act, and progressives instead urged President Joe Biden to issue a new, somewhat tighter, moratorium. The ban applies in counties with "significant or high transmission rates" of the coronavirus in the community, which currently make up more than 95% of the country.
Justice Department lawyers argued that the Delta variant of the virus increased the importance of the eviction ban to ensure a wave of people is not forced into more crowded shelters.
When the revised moratorium was announced on August 3, Biden admitted that the legal opportunities were great. But he said the ban was partially worthwhile because the lawsuit would give local governments additional time to distribute more than $ 45 billion in rental subsidies that Congress has granted.
The challengers, a group of landlords and real estate trade associations based in Alabama and Georgia, said Biden's statements showed the government was violating the rule of law.
The Treasury Department said Wednesday that only $ 1.7 billion in rental aid was released last month, bringing the total to $ 5.1 billion so far.
Cori Bush, a first-term Democrat in Missouri who camped on the steps of the Capitol to protest the expiry of the previous moratorium on July 31, called on Congress to act.
"We already know who will bear the brunt of this disastrous decision – black and brown communities, and black women in particular," Bush said in a statement.
The administration relied on a legal provision that empowers the Secretary for Health and Social Affairs to "make and enforce any arrangements he or she deems necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission or spread of communicable diseases". The CDC is housed in the Department of Health and Human Services.
The case is Alabama Association of Realtors vs. Department of Health and Human Services, 21A23.
– with the support of Jennifer Jacobs.