Conservative majority on Supreme Court ends eviction moratorium amid COVID surge

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Republican lawmakers have opposed any legislation to extend the moratorium.

The Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court decided on Thursday — without even a hearing — to overturn President Joe Biden's partial eviction moratorium. Their order could leave millions of struggling renters without a place to live, just as COVID-19 cases are spiking to levels not seen since February.

In an eight-page opinion, the high court ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "has exceeded its authority" by halting evictions in counties with high coronavirus transmission. It sided "with millions of landlords across the country, at risk of irreparable harm by depriving them of rent payments with no guarantee of eventual recovery."

"It is indisputable that the public has a strong interest in combating the spread of the COVID–19 Delta variant. But our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends," the majority wrote, adding that it is "up to Congress, not the CDC, to decide whether the public interest merits further action here."

The three Democratic-appointed justices filed a dissent. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that "the public interest is not favored by the spread of disease or a court's second-guessing of the CDC's judgment," especially given that the agency's models show "up to a 30% increased risk of contracting COVID–19 for some evicted people and those who share housing with them after displacement."

Republicans in Congress cheered the ruling.

"President Biden knew this would be the result but extended the moratorium anyway," tweeted Texas Sen. John Cornyn.

"No one should be surprised by this decision. Republicans knew months ago the CDC had exceeded its authority," gloated Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC).

Back in June, the same justices allowed a broader eviction ban to continue until its July 31 expiration date, by a 5-4 margin. But one of the justices in that majority — Justice Brett Kavanaugh — said that he was only doing so because the moratorium was about to expire anyway.

Some Democratic lawmakers tried to extend the moratorium legislatively, but the Republican minority succeeded at blocking their emergency legislation.

In an Aug. 5 appearance on a right-wing radio show — first flagged first by the progressive research group American Bridge 21st Century — Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) said there should have never been an eviction moratorium at all as it harmed the landlords. "Where's the compassion for those individuals?" he asked.

Without congressional action, the Biden administration attempted to address the problem with a more limited moratorium, targeted only at counties with "substantial and high levels" of community spread of the coronavirus — and set to expire in October.

Republicans attacked Biden for even trying to protect renters. Ohio Rep Bob Gibbs even went so far as to demand he be impeached for doing so.

While more than 4 million jobs have been added since Biden took office, many Americans remain out of work due to the ongoing pandemic.

"Just a reminder, the economy has 5.7 million fewer jobs than before the #COVID19 pandemic and there are 8.7 million Americans who are still without jobs," Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) noted on Wednesday, referring to the massive job losses that occurred under then-President Donald Trump in 2020.

Thanks to the Republicans on the Supreme Court and in Congress, many of these unemployed Americans may now face eviction from their homes.

"Without the CDC's moratorium, millions of people are at risk of being evicted or becoming homeless, increasing their exposure to COVID just as cases are rising across the country," the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' senior research analyst Alicia Mazzara told the Associated Press on Aug. 3.  "The effects will fall heavily on people of color, particularly Black and Latino communities, who face greater risk of eviction and more barriers to vaccination."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.