A group of Alabama real estate agents asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to block a federal moratorium on evictions that was imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, a federal district judge agreed with the group that the Centers for Disease Control does not have the power to impose the policy, but she put her ruling on hold to give the government time to appeal. The Alabama Association of Realtors urged the Supreme Court to intervene on an emergency basis and lift that stay order, telling the justices that “Congress never gave the CDC the staggering amount of power it now claims.”
The moratorium at the heart of the case was imposed by the CDC in September after a similar moratorium enacted by Congress expired. The moratorium bans landlords from evicting tenants who cannot pay their rent, with fines and even criminal penalties for landlords who violate the ban. The real estate agents argue in their 35-page filing that the moratorium “shifted the pandemic’s financial burdens from the nation’s 30 to 40 million renters to its 10 to 11 million landlords – most of whom,” like the challengers in this case, “are individuals and small businesses.” The challengers say landlords have been losing over $13 billion in unpaid rent each month as a result of the policy. The moratorium is currently scheduled to expire on June 30, though the CDC has previously extended the moratorium twice, and the challengers tell the court that the agency could do so again.
In May, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich vacated the moratorium. She concluded that the moratorium went beyond the authority that Congress had given the CDC in the federal public health laws on which the agency relied to impose the order. But she put her ruling on hold while the government appealed, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit left the stay in place, leading to Thursday’s filing.
The challengers tell the justices that the stay “will prolong the severe financial burdens borne by landlords under the moratorium,” which could reach as much as $200 billion. Moreover, they add, with the “downward trend in COVID-19 cases and the effectiveness in vaccines,” any public health rationales for the moratorium are now pretextual.
The real estate agents’ request went to Chief Justice John Roberts, who handles emergency requests from the District of Columbia. Roberts can act on the application himself, but he is more likely to refer it to the full court.
(Update, Friday, June 4, at 4:18 p.m.): On Friday, the chief justice called for a response from the Department of Health and Human Services. It is due next Thursday, June 10, by 5 p.m.
This post is also published on SCOTUSblog.