[guest post by JVW]
As we emerge from the lockdown world (granted, some states far more slowly than others), the judicial branch is starting to rein in the executive and legislative branches just a bit:
A federal judge on Wednesday invalidated a national eviction moratorium after finding that the COVID-19 pandemic policy exceeded the authority of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Dabey Friedrich threw out the measure, which was enacted by Congress in March 2020 as part of the CARES Act and later extended by President Biden until June 30, 2021. Lawmakers cited the Public Health Service Act of 1944, which grants the federal government the authority to impose quarantines and other measures to handle health emergencies, as justification for the provision.
“The question for the court is a narrow one: Does the Public Health Service Act grant the C.D.C. the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium?” Friedrich wrote in a 20-page decision. “It does not.”
The measure that initially passed Congress last spring was a 120-day moratorium on evictions from rental properties participating in federal assistance programs or underwritten by federal loans. Trump extended the moratorium in an executive order in August, saying that evictions threatened to spread the virus by forcing families to stay in shelters or to double up in overcrowded housing situations.
Given that the Biden Administration had thus far only extended the eviction moratorium through the end of June, the plaintiffs in this case, real estate interests in Alabama and Georgia, don’t particularly get much relief. Back in January the Trump Administration, on their way out the door, agreed to $25 billion in payments to landlords funneled through the states, in return for not evicting those tenants in arrears. Many landlords have complained, however, that the payments fall well short of the revenue they are actually losing, and that landlords did not receive a corresponding property tax moratorium to help them compensate. Tenants willingness to pay their rent over the past month is, as one might imagine, surprisingly stout in some locales, depressingly sketchy in others, and heavily determined by how serious the community is with respect to cracking down on abuses of the system.
What I think is most important here is that we are finally seeing some push-back against sometimes arbitrary rules emerging from unelected bureaucracies or being enacted without the consent of the legislature. Sure, one might argue that Judge Friedrich is a Republican appointee (Trump Administration) and that Obama or Clinton appointees will be far less likely to challenge federal bureaucrats, but this is one of the many reasons why we always maintain that the ability to appoint judges is so important. Hopefully the Washington DC crowd views this ruling as a sign that we need to return to a sense of market normalcy, the CDC is duly chastised (yeah, right!), and rising vaccination numbers along with the coming summer months help all of us get closer to the pre-COVID-19 world, even if we never quite return to the way things once were.