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The Supreme Court Leaves The CDC's Moratorium On Evictions In Place

The U.S. Supreme Court left intact the nationwide moratorium on evictions put in place by the CDC until July 31.
Jose Luis Magana
The U.S. Supreme Court left intact the nationwide moratorium on evictions put in place by the CDC until July 31.

Updated June 29, 2021 at 7:53 PM ET

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to lift a ban on evictions for tenants who have failed to pay all or some rent during the coronavirus pandemic.

By a 5-4 vote, the court left in place the nationwide moratorium on evictions issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Alabama Association of Realtors had challenged the moratorium.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who cast the fifth and deciding vote, wrote in a concurring opinion that he voted not to end the eviction program only because it is set to expire on July 31, "and because those few weeks will allow for additional and more orderly distribution" of the funds that Congress appropriated to provide rental assistance to those in need due to the pandemic. He added, however, that in his view Congress would have to pass new and clearer legislation to extend the moratorium past July 31.

The Biden administration has said it does not plan to extend the moratorium any further.

Also voting to leave the program intact until July 31 were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Dissenting were Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett. They would have blocked the moratorium from continuing for another month.

The decision comes at a time when roughly 7 million American households say they are still behind on their rent. Many suffered job losses during the pandemic. And delays have stopped more than $46 billion in congressionally approved rental assistance from reaching many of those facing eviction who need it.

Housing groups have been warning that pulling the CDC eviction protections away from people before congressional aid can reach them would spark a wave of evictions that could otherwise be avoided.

Evictions often send families into a downward financial spiral. It can be hard to find another place to live with an eviction on your record. People can end up living in their cars, motels when they can afford it or in homeless shelters. Researchhas found there's also a disparate impact on people of color.

During the pandemic, public health experts have warned — and research showed — that evictions result in more coronavirus cases because people end up living in more crowded situations, where they are more likely to catch or spread the virus.

At the outset of the pandemic, Congress adopted a limited, temporary moratorium on evictions. After the moratorium lapsed last July, however, then-President Donald Trump asked the CDC to step in and issue a new eviction ban, which it did in September. In March, President Biden extended that ban, which was to expire at the end of June. Then on June 24, the Biden administration notified the Supreme Court it had extended the moratorium until July 31. It also said that barring a rise in coronavirus cases, the "CDC does not plan to extend the Order further."

Landlords have long argued that the CDC order was an overreach and that the agency doesn't have the power to, in effect, take control over their properties.

A group of the nation's landlords challenged the eviction ban, and on May 5, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that the CDC had exceeded its authority. The judge, however, blocked her decision from going into effect to give the government time to appeal. On June 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the stay, prompting the landlords to go to the Supreme Court.

Keeping the status quo in place "will prolong the severe financial burdens borne by landlords under the moratorium for the past nine months," the property owners said.

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NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.
Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.