The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Biden Administration’s latest eviction moratorium less than one month after the policy debuted.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) first announced the moratorium on Aug. 3. However, a group of landlords and the Alabama Association of Realtors almost immediately challenged the policy, arguing that the CDC overstepped its authority and never had “the staggering amount of power it claims.”
In an unsigned opinion Thursday evening, six of the Supreme Court Justices ultimately agreed that the department did not have the power to ban rental evictions. Instead, the court argued, such a policy would have to come from lawmakers — not the Biden administration.
“If a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it,” the ruling states.
The Aug. 3 moratorium followed an earlier eviction ban that began in 2020 as the coronavirus slammed the U.S. economy. The policy was designed to protect renters who might have lost jobs or wages, and would otherwise have been at risk of losing their housing. At the time, the rule was also accompanied by other programs, such as mortgage forbearance, that were designed to ease pressure on other parts of the housing industry.
The original eviction moratorium was ultimately extended several times before finally expiring on July 31.
As the original moratorium lapsed, a number of liberal lawmakers and activists pushed for continued extensions for renters. U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, a Missouri Democrat, went so far as to sleep on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in an effort to push for an extension to the moratorium and protest lawmakers decision to let the original policy expire.
However, the Biden administration ultimately opted for a new moratorium, rather than an extension. The thinking was that a new moratorium would be more legally defensible.
Despite that strategy, the writing has appeared to be on the wall for weeks.
On Aug. 13, a federal judge declined to block the eviction moratorium due to a previous court ruling, but also said that it in the end it was likely illegal. The ruling set the stage for further legal wrangling, but also hinted that the policy could be doomed.
Thursday’s ruling ultimately concluded that the Biden Administration’s interpretation of the law that it used to issue the moratorium “would give the CDC a breathtaking amount of authority.”
“It is hard to see what measures this interpretation would place outside the CDC’s reach,” the ruling continued.
Several lines later, the six justices asked, “Could the CDC, for example, mandate free grocery delivery to the homes of the sick or vulnerable? Require manufacturers to provide free computers to enable people to work from home? Order telecommunications companies to provide free high-speed Internet service to facilitate remote work?”
Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented in the ruling. The six other justices prevailed, indicating that while the pandemic is a series issue, the CDC’s claim of authority is “unprecedented.”
“It is indisputable that the public has a strong interest in combating the spread of the COVID–19 Delta variant,” the ruling adds. “But our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends.”
Read the full ruling here: