SCOTUS Evicts CDC's Eviction Moratorium. Maybe States Could F**king Hurry Up With Rent Aid?
As pretty much everybody expected, the Supreme Court wasted no time striking down the latest eviction moratorium put in place earlier this month by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In an unsigned majority opinion, the Court said that the CDC had exceeded its legal authority, and that any further eviction moratorium would have to come from Congress, public health emergency or no.
The majority opinion said that the 1944 federal public health law the CDC had relied on would allow for "measures like fumigation and pest extermination," or even quarantine orders in places hit by disease outbreaks, but that it "strains credulity to believe that this statute grants the C.D.C. the sweeping authority that it asserts."
In a dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said the Court should defer to the infectious disease experts at the CDC, what with the pandemic still killing Americans and the Delta variant of the coronavirus making the crisis worse.
"These questions call for considered decision-making, informed by full briefing and argument," he wrote. "Their answers impact the health of millions. We should not set aside the C.D.C.'s eviction moratorium in this summary proceeding."
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Breyer's dissent. But the Court as a whole belongs to the landed gentry these days, so tough shit, renters wiped out by the pandemic recession.
Thank goodness Congress passed over $46 billion in emergency rental assistance in its last two coronavirus relief plans! There's just one tiny catch for renters and landlords who need that help to cover months of back rent: As of this week, only about about 11 percent of the funding has actually been distributed, because it's being funneled through state, tribal, and local governments — roughly 500 different programs nationwide, many of which have cumbersome application processes. (Wonkette put together a guide to applying for help, just in case you or some renter or landlord you know is in one of the places that has its shit together.)
It's obscene that Congress took action, starting in December 2020, to help people facing eviction, but so little of the funds have made it to people in need. Part of the problem was that it had never been done before, so new mechanisms had to be built from the ground up, but the bigger problem seems to be that in many places, the application process just has too many hoops to jump through, in the name of preventing fraud.
The Court at least put on a show of recognizing that if hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of Americans are forced out of where they live in the middle of a pandemic, that could make the pandemic worse. But sorry, that may have to happen because regulatory agencies can't push America's landlords around like that just to prevent disease.
"It is indisputable that the public has a strong interest in combating the spread of the Covid-19 Delta variant," the opinion said. "But our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends."
"If a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue," the opinion said, "Congress must specifically authorize it."
For what it's worth, Breyer argued in his dissent that "the public interest is not favored by the spread of disease or a court's second-guessing of the C.D.C.'s judgment."
Again, we all saw this coming; when the Court initially took up the case, Justice Brett Kegstand made clear that he believed the CDC lacked the authority to stop evictions, but that he'd let its moratorium stand since it was about to expire at the end of July. This time around, Kegstand wasn't in the mood to let the new moratorium stay in place through October, even though it was a bit narrower, applying only to counties with a high level of community transmission of the virus. (It wasn't much of an "only," since that's now 90 percent of the country.)
With the eviction moratorium now vacated like a run-down apartment where tenants had to leave all their furniture on the lawn in the rain, things are looking very bad. Rep. Cori Bush (D-Missouri), who slept on the steps of the Capitol to persuade the administration to renew the moratorium, kept the uncomfortable truths coming:
Tonight, the Supreme Court failed to protect the 11 million households across our country from violent eviction in the middle of a deadly global pandemic. [...] We already know who is going to bear the brunt of this disastrous decision: Black and brown communities, and especially Black women.
For its part, the Biden administration knew the ruling was coming, and has been prepping for damage control where it can:
In recent days, Mr. Biden's team has been mapping out strategies to deal with the likely loss of the moratorium, with a plan to focus its efforts on a handful of states — including South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Ohio — that have large backlogs of unpaid rent and few statewide protections for tenants.
The administration should also be looking at lighting a fire under states that haven't been getting assistance to renters and landlords. The end of the rental moratorium wouldn't be nearly as devastating if that aid were actually going where Congress wanted it to go. Shouldn't the Justice Department or HUD be using their civil rights arms to open up the funding?
In conclusion, our policy recommendation is Fuck shit piss goddamn this sucks FIX IT.
[NYT / Ruling in Alabama Association of Realtors v. HHS / Photo: Supreme Court photo by 'Marielam1,' Creative commons license 4.0; eviction notice form via Austin Tenants Council]
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