DOJ Appeals After Federal Judge Strikes Down CDC Eviction Ban

Tenants and housing rights organizers protest evictions outside Los Angeles’ Stanley Mosk Courthouse, file photo, Sept 2, 2020. Photo Source: Tenants and housing rights organizers protest evictions outside Los Angeles’ Stanley Mosk Courthouse, file photo, Sept 2, 2020. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Judge Dabney Friedrich of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia struck down the Center for Disease Control's eviction moratorium on Wednesday. The case was brought in front of the court by the Alabama Association of Realtors where they argued that the CDC overstepped its authority in telling landlords they were not allowed to evict tenants who were not paying their rent. The CDC explained that the Public Health Service Act gave the agency the authority to ensure renters stayed in their homes during the global pandemic.
 
In her ruling, Judge Friedrich wrote, "It is the role of the political branches, and not the courts, to assess the merits of policy measures designed to combat the spread of disease, even during a global pandemic." She added, "The question for the Court is a narrow one: Does the Public Health Service Act grant the CDC the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium? It does not."
 
The realtor group behind the claim, represented by CEO Jeremy Walker, expressed after the judge’s ruling that it would “bring much needed relief to struggling mom-and-pop housing providers across the country."
 
From the onset of the eviction moratorium, many landlords found themselves in a precarious situation. As tenants stopped paying rent, landlords found themselves with no protections as they continued to be responsible for mortgage and tax payments as well as any other fees associated with their rentals. For many small-scale landlords, the eviction moratorium protects the tenants but leaves the landlords in a vulnerable state.
 
Proponents of the moratorium worry about the consequences of evicting tenants during a global pandemic. The executive director of the National Housing Law Project, Shamus Roller, shared with NPR, “Congress in December extended the CDC order. So clearly Congress thinks that the CDC has this authority."
 
Like many proponents of the federal eviction, Roller and other housing advocates are hoping that the D.C. Circuit Court will issue a stay. Anthony Coley with the DOJ confirmed in a Tweet, “The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a notice of appeal to the D.C. Circuit of this morning’s ruling vacating the CDC’s eviction moratorium. Also, we seek a stay of the decision, pending appeal.”
 
The DOJ released a statement that explained in part, “The Department of Justice respectfully disagrees with today’s decision of the district court in Alabama Association of Realtors v. HHS concluding that the moratorium exceeds CDC’s statutory authority to protect public health. In the department’s view, that decision conflicts with the text of the statute, Congress’s ratification of the moratorium, and the rulings of other courts."

Who Will Be Impacted By the Ruling?

If the stay is granted, the housing protections for millions of Americans would remain in place. Depending on the judges who hear the appeal, the stay may or may not be granted. Many have questioned how Trump’s influence of appointing 54 judges for the U.S. Courts of Appeals, many of whom were conservative, will impact the DOJ's appeal.
 
The national eviction moratorium which was issued by the CDC on September 1, 2020, under the Cares Act protected tenants who were unable to pay their rent because of wages lost during the pandemic.
 
The sweeping measure striking down the evictions moratorium would impact millions of individuals according to reports. The U.S. Census Bureau has reported that up to seven million individuals are currently behind on their rent.
 
While this ruling could mean eviction for millions across the nation, individuals who live in states that have their own eviction moratoriums in place would remain protected. Currently, 18 states along with Washington D.C. have an eviction moratorium in place. 
 
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki stressed in her daily briefing the importance of the eviction moratorium. She shared on behalf of the administration, “A recent study estimates that there were 1.55 million fewer evictions filed during 2020 than would be expected due to the eviction moratorium, so it clearly has had a huge benefit.”

Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti is a postgraduate at James Madison University where she studied English and Education. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and two little girls. Although she considers herself a workaholic, when she’s not juggling work, you can be sure to find her traveling the world with her little family.