Relief for millions as US apex court keeps eviction bans in place

In a step that brings relief for millions of low-income families across the United States, the Supreme Court decided against a stay on a federally-imposed eviction moratorium

June 30, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
A "Cancel The Rents" demonstration by the Party for Socialism and Liberation in Oakland, California. Photo: Liberation

In a step that brings relief for millions of low-income families across the United States, the Supreme Court decided against a stay on a federally-imposed eviction moratorium. On Tuesday, June 29, the Supreme Court decided by a split vote (5-4) to deny a request by a group of landlords seeking to impose a federal district court’s ruling to block a residential eviction moratorium put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The justices decided to not allow the stay as the federal judge’s ruling is being appealed by the federal government. In May this year, a group of corporate landlords and realtors’ association secured a judgement to block the Joe Biden administration’s decision to extend the CDC eviction moratorium until July 31.

The ruling was handed down by Judge Dabney Friedrich of the district court of Columbia on a lawsuit filed by the Alabama Association of Realtors. But the ruling was put on hold by judge Friedrich as the federal government appealed the case in higher courts.

The CDC, a federal disease control body leading the counter-pandemic efforts in the US, had estimated without a moratorium, anywhere between 30 million to 40 million are at risk of being evicted, with a large number of them at risk of being rendered homeless. The eviction moratorium was imposed to prevent such widespread homelessness in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the US Congress sanctioning a massive USD 46.5 billion so far in rental assistance and mortgage aid intended to reach landlords, real estate giants, banks and corporate landlords have strongly opposed the moratorium, which also prevents them from hiking rents. The petitioners argued that the CDC overreached its jurisdiction and that the Congress never gave it the “staggering amount of power it now claims.”

The CDC, on the other hand, argued that the moratorium was crucial to its efforts at fighting the pandemic to allow proper home quarantines, social distancing and isolation. The court decision also comes just days after the Biden administration extended the moratorium for another month until July 31. But CDC officials reportedly told the court that the agency does not intend to continue the moratorium after next month.

This suggestion allowed for two of the six conservative justices of the Supreme Court to allow for the Friedrich ruling to remain on hold until the litigation continues, even though at least one of them, Brett Kavanaugh, is on record agreeing with the landlords’ argument that the CDC exceeded its authority.

The CDC’s statement in the court though goes against president Biden’s own support for demands to extend the moratorium until September 30. It also overlooks demands from various quarters, including from the Democratic Party and State governments, to extend the moratoriums beyond July.

It must be noted that the recent extension came two days after a group of 41 Democrats in the US Congress sent a letter to president Biden asking for the same. They pointed to the Census Bureau’s official figures which show that over 7 million tenants are still behind on their rents due to the pandemic.

The signatories of the letter had argued that without vaccination rates reaching a critical mass in racially marginalized and low-income communities, evictions will only aggravate the pandemic. “The impact of the federal moratorium cannot be overstated, and the need to strengthen and extend it is an urgent matter of health, racial, and economic justice,” they wrote.

Several of the signatories of the letter, like congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Cori Bush continue to call for longer moratoriums. They are joined by Democratic State governors and senators like Elizabeth Warren, arguing for more time to allow states to ensure the full disbursement of rental aid, with many states reporting a serious backlog.

Last week, the State of Washington in western US, decided to extend the moratorium until the end of September. This was followed by neighboring California extending the moratorium for the same period.