The US Supreme Court has blocked the extension of a federal moratorium on evictions, ending a protection granted to millions who have struggled to afford rent during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
In a 6-3 ruling, the court sided with homeowners who claimed to be victims of unwarranted measures, and argued that any renewal of a moratorium must be decided by Congress and not health officials.
The court’s unsigned majority opinion said the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had exceeded its authority with its latest order temporarily halting evictions in areas where coronavirus cases were surging.
“It strains credulity to believe that this statute grants the CDC the sweeping authority that it asserts,” the court said. “If a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorise it.”
“It is up to Congress, not the CDC, to decide whether the public interest merits further action here,” read the eight-page majority opinion.
The court’s three liberal justices dissented, citing fears that evictions could exacerbate the spread of the Delta variant.
Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer said in a dissenting opinion that the outcome of the case was not as clear cut as the majority suggested and that the court was not justified in ending the moratorium so quickly at a time when Covid-19 cases are surging.
“The public interest strongly favours respecting the CDC’s judgment at this moment, when over 90% of counties are experiencing high transmission rates,” he wrote.
Citing the CDC, he said that a surge of evictions could lead to more infections of the coronavirus.
The case was prompted by the CDC’s latest, two-month-long moratorium, rolled out on August 3.
An earlier, September 2020 moratorium issued by the CDC expired after a Supreme Court ruling in June said it could not continue beyond July 31 without authorisation from Congress.
President Joe Biden’s administration had urged Congress to approve an extension, but US lawmakers failed to do so before summer recess.
Under pressure from Democrats, the CDC ordered a new moratorium, citing public health risks posed by the pandemic.
The Supreme Court has now ended that moratorium.
At the White House, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the administration “is disappointed” that the court blocked the eviction moratorium “while confirmed cases of the Delta variant are significant across the country”.
The moratorium “saved lives by preventing the spread of the Covid-19 virus throughout the pandemic”, Psaki said in a statement.
The White House had expected the moratorium to be challenged in court, but hoped that the extra time would allow for emergency rental assistance funds approved by Congress to reach those in need.
However, much of that money is still caught in red tape, even as around 3.5mn people in the US told the Census Bureau they face eviction in the next two months.
In light of the ruling “and the continued risk of Covid-19 transmission, President Biden is once again calling on all entities that can prevent evictions ... to urgently act to prevent evictions”, Psaki said.