A federal judge issued a decision Wednesday vacating the U.S. government’s nationwide ban on evictions, voiding one of the biggest pieces of Washington’s response to the Covid-19 crisis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its authority in imposing the moratorium, U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbia Dabney Friedrich ruled Wednesday.
The CDC issued an order in September barring landlords from evicting tenants for the nonpayment of rent, citing a 1944 public health law that gives the agency certain powers to prevent communicable diseases from crossing state lines. Congress and the Biden administration have since extended the ban, which was slated to expire June 30.
The Biden administration is racing to end a bottleneck at the state and local government level preventing the disbursement of more than $46 billion in rent relief. Wednesday’s order increases the pressure to get the money out the door to keep millions of distressed tenants from facing long-term damage to their credit and the potential loss of their homes.
Friedrich appeared skeptical of the government’s position in a hearing last week.
“The pandemic has triggered difficult policy decisions that have had enormous real-world consequences. The nationwide eviction moratorium is one such decision,” Friedrich wrote in the decision Wednesday.
“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,” Friedrich wrote. “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.”
The Justice Department attorneys representing the CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether they would seek a stay of the ruling.