The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Biden administration’s eviction moratorium.
In an unsigned opinion, the majority of the court said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its authority in continuously extending the ban on evictions citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It would be one thing if Congress had specifically authorized the action that the CDC has taken. But that has not happened,” the court wrote.
“It is indisputable that the public has a strong interest in combating the spread of the COVID–19 Delta variant. But our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends,” the justices added.
The three Democratic appointees dissented, arguing the balance of equities during the coronavirus pandemic should lean towards leaving the moratorium in place.
The court’s decision comes after a group of landlords from Alabama and Georgia argued in the court filing that the CDC claimed “unqualified power to take any measure imaginable to stop the spread of any communicable disease — common cold included — whether it be eviction moratoria, worship limits, nationwide lockdowns, school closures, or vaccine mandates.”
The dispute returned to the justices after a federal appeals court in Washington declined to halt the eviction moratorium last week, which was set to remain in place through October.
The Alabama and Georgia landlords, who have not been able to remove tenants who can’t pay their rent, have been challenging the moratorium in court since last year, asking federal judges to block its enforcement.
In June, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to leave the eviction moratorium in place.
Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh said he thought the government had overreached, although he voted with the majority leaving the moratorium intact until July 31, the previous expiration date of the eviction ban.
In the order, Justice Kavanaugh said the CDC would need congressional authority to extend the ban beyond July 31.
He said he did not move to strike down the moratorium immediately because “those few weeks will allow for additional and more orderly distribution of the congressionally appropriated rental assistance funds.”
Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Neil M. Gorsuch, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas would have voted to strike down the ban on evictions immediately.
The CDC, which ordered the moratorium because of the shutdowns prompted by COVID-19, extended its ban past July 31 because of the spread of the highly contagious delta variant after pressure from progressive politicians.
The eviction moratorium prevents landlords from evicting tenants, so they are unable to remove a renter who doesn’t pay.
Property owners across the country, including struggling mom-and-pop operators, have been asking the nation’s courts why landlords are expected to take a financial hit while non-paying tenants are protected by the moratoriums.
The moratorium was first issued in September 2020 under then-President Trump, and the government has continued to renew it.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration was “disappointed” by the Supreme Court‘s move, saying it will result in families facing evictions and communities experiencing more exposure to COVID-19.
“In light of the Supreme Court ruling and the continued risk of COVID-19 transmission, President 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,” she said.
Rep. Cori Bush, Missouri Democrat, who rallied the progressive base in calling for the eviction moratorium to be renewed past the prior July 31 deadline, said Congress must step up and protect families.
“Congress must act immediately to prevent mass evictions and I am exploring every possible option. I urge my colleagues to reflect on the humanity of every single one of their unhoused, or soon to be unhoused, neighbors, and support a legislative solution to this eviction crisis,” she said.