Millions of renters at risk as Supreme Court overturns CDC eviction moratorium

U.S. Supreme Court Building. Photo by

The Supreme Court put millions of renters at risk of losing their homes after a ruling on Thursday to end the CDC eviction moratorium.

Responding to an emergency petition by landlord groups, the court overturned the national eviction moratorium ordered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The court said that the CDC had overstepped its authority. It also said that Congress would need to pass its own legislation to authorize any new eviction moratorium.

The court made its 6-3 ruling in an 8-page unsigned decision. The court ruled that the CDC overstepped its authority under the decades-old Public Health Services Act. The decision says that it “strains credulity to believe that the statute grants the CDC the sweeping authority that it asserts.” They went on to say that although the public has a strong interest in halting the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant, “our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends.”

Justice Kavanaugh had said in an earlier opinion that only Congress could act to extend the CDC eviction moratorium past the end of July. Regarding the new CDC eviction moratorium, the Court wrote that, “Congress was on notice that a further extension would almost surely require legislation, yet it failed to act in the several weeks leading up to the moratorium’s expiration.”

Justice Breyer wrote the dissenting opinion, joined by the two other liberal justices. Justice Breyer wrote that the public interest strongly favors respecting the CDC’s judgment on public health matters at a time when over 90% of the nation’s counties are experiencing high transmission rates.

The Biden administration was disappointed in the ruling. Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement on behalf of the White House. She described the harm caused by the decision, saying, “As a result of this ruling, families will face the painful impact of evictions, and communities across the country will face greater risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

Psaki also said that the President was calling on all levels of government to step up and keep Americans in their homes during this crisis. “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.”

The challenge was brought by the Alabama and Georgia Associations of Realtors. As of the end of July, Alabama and Georgia have only disbursed 3% of their federal Emergency Rental Assistance. This would cover all the back rent owed to landlords, and it would help tenants pay steady rent for the next several months without having to turn families out on the streets.