The US Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday requested the Supreme Court to uphold a moratorium on evictions in an effort to prevent millions of people from going homeless. The request cited the rising number of COVID-19 cases in areas across the country and the need to not place people in situations of increased risk.
A previous moratorium was challenged in July by the Alabama Association of Realtors, supported by landlords across the US, who say that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) exceeded its authority when it issued the ban on evictions. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who became the swing vote in the 5-4 decision, concurred that the CDC had exceeded its authority, but decided against the landlord’s application because of the close proximity to the end of the moratorium. Kavanaugh ended his reasoning stating “clear and specific congressional authorization . . . would be necessary for the CDC to extend the moratorium.”
Earlier this month, the CDC issued a new order “temporarily halting evictions in counties with heightened levels of community transmission” in an effort to contain the rising spread of COVID-19. This order is set to expire in October.
Hours later, Landlord groups from Alabama and Georgia (“plaintiffs”) filed an emergency motion to vacate a stay on the moratorium issued by the district court previously, citing the Kavanaugh concurrence that the CDC exceeded its authority. The US District Court for the District of Columbia denied the request stating that “the Court’s hands are tied” as the Supreme Court “did not issue a controlling opinion” for this issue. In a brief order released Friday, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit similarly denied a request to vacate the stay, thereby keeping the moratorium intact. The arguments are now being heard at the Supreme Court.
Earlier today, acting Solicitor General Brian Fletcher of the DOJ petitioned the Supreme Court not to vacate the stay on the moratorium. Fletcher cites a “nearly ten-fold increase” in COVID-19 rates compared to the circumstances surrounding the July ruling. The petition warns of the danger from the proliferation of the Delta variant, the ineligibility of those under 12 to receive a vaccine and the upcoming school year, explicitly reiterating that the CDC “has the statutory authority to halt evictions to prevent the spread of communicable disease.”
The plaintiffs have said that the ever-increasing extensions on eviction bans have created financial hardships for them and their business. A recent study published by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University said that the people living in approximately 10.9 million households are on the brink of homelessness, and that at least 40% of US renters are over-burdened by the cost of rent. The threat of eviction also disproportionately affects renters of color.