The US Supreme Court has allowed evictions to resume, blocking the administration of President Joe Biden from enforcing a temporary ban put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The conservative-majority court’s action ends protection for roughly 3.5 million people in the United States who said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to Census Bureau data from early August.
The court said late on Thursday in an unsigned opinion that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which reimposed the moratorium on August 3, lacked the authority to do so under federal law without explicit congressional authorisation.
“If a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorise it,” the court wrote.
The court’s three liberal justices dissented.
Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the three, pointed to the increase in COVID-19 caused by the Delta variant as one of the reasons the court should have left the moratorium in place.
“The public interest strongly favours respecting the CDC’s judgment at this moment, when over 90 percent of counties are experiencing high transmission rates,” Breyer wrote.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration was “disappointed” by the decision and President Joe Biden “is once again calling on all entities that can prevent evictions – from cities and states to local courts, landlords, cabinet agencies – to urgently act to prevent evictions”.
Democratic Representative Cori Bush, who camped outside the Capitol as the eviction moratorium expired at the end of last month, said Congress must act to reinstate the protections.
We were outside the Capitol for 5 days. Rain. Heat. Cold.
If they think this partisan ruling is going to stop us from fighting to keep people housed, they’re wrong.
Congress needs to act immediately. For every unhoused or soon to be unhoused person in our districts. https://t.co/Boi3rUaZ4Y
— Cori Bush (@CoriBush) August 27, 2021
“We are in an unprecedented and ongoing crisis that demands compassionate solutions that centre the needs of the people and communities most in need of our help. We need to give our communities time to heal from this devastating pandemic,” she said in a statement.
“We didn’t sleep on those steps just to give up now. Congress must act immediately to prevent mass evictions.”
It was the second loss for the administration this week at the highest court in the country.
On Tuesday, the court effectively allowed the reinstatement of a former President Donald Trump administration policy that forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their hearings. The new administration tried to end the Remain in Mexico programme, as it is informally known.
On evictions, Biden previously acknowledged the limitations of his administration.
But he said even with the knowledge that the courts would block the CDC’s eviction moratorium, the extension would buy at least a few weeks’ time for the distribution of more of the $46.5bn in rental assistance Congress approved.
The Treasury Department said on Wednesday the pace of distribution has increased and nearly one million households have been helped.
But only about 11 percent of the money, just over $5bn, has been distributed by state and local governments, the department said.
The administration has called on state and local officials to “move more aggressively” in distributing rental assistance funds and urged state and local courts to issue their own moratoriums to “discourage eviction filings” until landlords and tenants have sought the funds.