WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Friday allowed the Biden administration’s moratorium on the evictions to continue, saying she had no jurisdiction to block such emergency public health policies, even though she believed “it the government is unlikely to prevail” when the case returns to the Supreme Court. Court of law.
In a 13-page ruling, Judge Dabney L. Friedrich of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia expressed doubts about the legality of the policy, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imposed Aug. 3 in counties affected by Covid-19.
The ban replaced an expired nationwide moratorium first instituted in September last year to prevent a wave of people crowding into homeless shelters and family members’ homes and spreading the virus. The new one is narrower because it only applies to high transmission speeds. Yet that category currently covers about 91 percent of counties in the United States.
Judge Friedrich had blocked the nationwide version of the moratorium in May, but the Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned it and the Supreme Court upheld that decision in June. On Friday, she ruled that the replacement policy was similar to the original policy that the earlier appeals court ruling ruled the case — for now.
“Without the judgment of the DC Circuit,” she wrote, she would immediately block the government from enforcing the new eviction ban. “But the hands of the court are tied.”
The Justice Department declined to comment. But in a statement, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said: “The administration believes the CDC’s new moratorium is a proper use of its lawful power to protect public health. We are pleased that the court has granted the suspension of payments, although we are aware that further proceedings in this case are likely.”
The plaintiffs, led by the Alabama Association of Realtors, are expected to quickly return the case to the appeals court in an effort to speed up the road to the Supreme Court, where five of the nine judges are likely to agree with Judge Friedrich that The ban exceeds the government’s emergency powers under a broadly worded, but vague, 1944 public health law.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs forwarded a request for comment to Patrick Newton, a spokesman for the National Association of Realtors, who is not a party to the case but supports the landlords. He said the plaintiffs would appeal, adding: “We are confident that this illegal eviction ban will end soon.”
The government’s power to ban evictions as part of its efforts to fight the pandemic has raised complex legal and political problems. The Biden administration had indicated it planned to let an earlier version of the moratorium, which had already been extended several times by then, expire in late July after a Supreme Court judge warned it was likely on legally shaky ground. .
But when the Delta variant of the virus reared its head and Speaker Nancy Pelosi and progressive Democrats urged the White House to change course, the administration this month issued a new, tighter moratorium — even as Mr. Biden made clear in comments to reporters that he understood its implications. chances of being confirmed by the Supreme Court were slim.
“Most of the constitutional science says it probably won’t make it through the constitution,” he said on Aug. 3. “But there are several leading scientists who think it can be done — and it’s worth it.”
Communicating the White House’s understanding that the longer-term prospects of the moratorium are weak, Ms. Psaki on Friday called on state and local officials to take other steps that could mitigate a virus-spreading wave of mass evictions, including by imposing local moratoriums and taking more aggressive steps to distribute $46.5 billion that Congress has appropriated to serve as an emergency rent relief fund.
A temporary moratorium on evictions for the pandemic began during the Trump administration. Sometimes Congress has explicitly approved it. But when those periods expired, the CDC issued extensions under the 1944 Act, which gives the government the power to enact any rules it sees fit to slow the interstate spread of disease.
Unable to evict non-paying tenants, landlords sued, raising the question of whether a nationwide eviction ban fell outside the 1944 law.
In May, Judge Friedrich ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail and issued an injunction that would prohibit the government from enforcing the injunction while the trial unfolded. But she also upheld that ruling while the government appealed, and the appeals court declined to lift her arrest — while also stating that, contrary to her opinion, the ban would most likely be found lawful.
In late June, the Supreme Court also refused to lift her stay and voted 5-4 against an immediate blocking of the original deportation ban. But while the administration won, the action came with a strong warning: Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh warned that “clear and specific congressional approval” would be needed for the moratorium to continue beyond its scheduled expiration date in late July.
At the time, the pandemic appeared to be easing and the administration thought tens of billions of dollars appropriated by Congress as emergency rent funds were about to be distributed. Against that backdrop, the Biden administration’s legal and policy teams agreed to let the moratorium end as planned.
But by the end of July, circumstances had changed. The distribution of funds for housing proved to be malfunctioning and the number of coronavirus cases increased. When swiftly passing new legislation proved politically impossible, House Democrats led by Ms. Pelosi pressured Mr. Biden to act unilaterally anyway, at a time when his larger agenda made it dangerous to win allies in the closely divided Congress. alienate.
That push was complicated by the fact that some Biden policy and press officials had suggested in the meantime that the Supreme Court’s action in June made it illegal to extend the moratorium. Those now-clumsy comments were an oversimplification of the more complicated reality, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations.
In fact, they advised, the government could stick to its position that it can pass a moratorium on evictions under the 1944 law, because the Supreme Court’s action in June did not set a definitive, conclusive precedent as to what that law might mean. However, they also warned that it was likely the Supreme Court would soon overturn a new moratorium, and such a ruling could also reduce the CDC’s flexibility to act in a future public health crisis.
Three days after the nationwide moratorium expired, the Biden administration issued a stricter moratorium until October.
A legal question raised by the case is whether the new facts – the emergence of the Delta variant and the reduced scope of the ban – make the new moratorium different from the old in a legally meaningful way, or whether it is primarily about the question of how to interpret the law of 1944.
In Friday’s ruling, Judge Friedrich ruled that the replacement moratorium was fundamentally similar to the original moratorium that it counted as an extension of it that allowed existing lawsuits to continue, rather than a new policy that legal arguments would have to start over.
“The minor differences between the current and past moratoriums do not absolve the former from this court’s order,” she wrote, adding that while the government has “excluded some provinces from the scope of the latest moratorium, the policy remains in effect nationwide.” , shares the same structure and design as its predecessors, provides continuous coverage with them and claims to be under the same legal authority.”