SCOTUS Strikes Down CDC Eviction Moratorium

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the nationwide emergency moratorium on residential evictions issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Recall, Congress established a temporary moratorium on evictions at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Upon Congress’ moratorium expiration in July 2020, the CDC issued an order halting evictions throughout the country utilizing authorities provided in the Public Health Service Act of 1944. In its order, the CDC cited the increased likelihood of COVID-19 transmission in congregate living settings, such as homeless shelters, or among those experiencing unsheltered homelessness.

The CDC extended its order several times until it last lapsed on July 31. In light of the increased presence of the COVID-19 delta variant throughout the country, the CDC issued earlier this month a limited eviction moratorium order in areas “experiencing substantial and high levels of community transmission levels of SARS-CoV-2” that would last for 60 days.

However, landlords, real estate entities, and trade associations affiliated with the Alabama Association of Realtors challenged the CDC’s moratorium, arguing the agency did not have proper authority to issue such an order under the 1944 federal law. The plaintiffs in the case pointed to significant economic impacts experienced by landlords and property owners as a result of the moratorium.

In Thursday’s SCOTUS ruling, the court’s conservative majority ruled that the CDC lacked authority to issue such an order without explicit authorization from Congress. The court’s majority indicated the CDC relied “on a decades-old statute that authorizes it to implement measures like fumigation and pest extermination. It strains credulity to believe that this statute grants the CDC the sweeping authority that it asserts.”

The three dissenting justices – Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan – penned an opinion that faulted the court for making such a sweeping move during a public health emergency. In his opinion, Justice Breyer indicated, “The public interest is not favored by the spread of the disease [COVID-19] or a court’s second-guessing of the CDC’s judgment.” As a result of the ruling, residential eviction protections for hundreds of thousands of Americans are no longer in place.

However, in several states, including California, residential evictions remain prohibited through September 30, 2021, due to economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recall, legislators and Governor Gavin Newsom finalized a budget agreement in late June cementing the extended moratorium and providing other residential relief efforts.

The full SCOTUS opinion on the CDC’s eviction moratorium is available here.