Trump-appointed judge rules against CDC moratorium on pandemic evictions

Trump-appointed judge rules against CDC moratorium on pandemic evictions
(Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

President Joe Biden talks on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House.

Delivering another blow to people across the United States still struggling financially during the coronavirus pandemic and related economic crisis, a Trump-appointed federal judge on Wednesday vacated the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's temporary federal eviction moratorium, which was set to expire at the end of next month.

First enacted under former President Donald Trump last year, the CDC moratorium has been repeatedly extended—including twice under President Joe Biden.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has presented a historic threat to the nation's public health. Keeping people in their homes and out of crowded or congregate settings—like homeless shelters—by preventing evictions is a key step in helping to stop the spread of Covid-19," CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky said in March, when the agency extended the moratorium until June 30, amid estimates that 12 million U.S. tenants were behind on rent.

In a 20-page ruling (pdf) expected by legal experts, Judge Dabney Friedrich of the U.S. District Court for D.C. wrote: "The court recognizes that the Covid-19 pandemic is a serious public health crisis that has presented unprecedented challenges for public health officials and the nation as a whole. The pandemic has triggered difficult policy decisions that have had enormous real-world consequences. The nationwide eviction moratorium is one such decision."

"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. 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," concluded the Trump appointee, confirmed in 2017 by a 97-3 vote in the U.S. Senate.

Friedrich's ruling comes in response to one of multiple legal challenges to the moratorium, including another in which an Ohio-based federal judge determined that the CDC overstepped its authority. The U.S. Department of Justice, which represents the CDC in such disputes, is appealing a similar ruling by a federal judge in Texas.

During a Wednesday press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Deparment of Justice is now reviewing the latest ruling.

In a series of tweets about the development, Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said it is "infuriating" that landlords are continuing to push for evictions during the pandemic just as $46 billion in rental assistance slowly reaches renters in need.

"Several district courts have attempted to strike down moratorium, but all had limited application," Yentel noted. "There are now numerous conflicting court rulings at the district court level, with several judges ruling in favor of the moratorium and several ruling against."

Like Yentel, Emily A. Benfer, a law professor and expert in health and housing justice, urged the Justice Department to appeal Friedrich's decision:

Other advocates and reporters also took issue with the judge's reasoning and warned of the impact that the ruling could have on renters:


The Hill noted that the ruling comes as landlords are trying to throw out tens of thousands of tenants for nonpayment, citing a study from the Private Equity Stakeholder Project that found across just seven states, corporate landlords filed more than 56,000 eviction actions since the moratorium first took effect last September.

Renters and housing advocates, meanwhile, have argued that the CDC's moratorium is far from enough and called on Congress to also cancel rent and enact housing debt forgiveness during the public health crisis. In March, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and other progressives reintroduced the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act.

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.