Trump District Court judge Dabney Friedrich issued an order on May 5 that completely struck down nationwide the eviction moratorium ordered by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) because of the public health dangers posed by eviction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the Washington Post reported, the ruling could harm “millions of struggling Americans.” The May 2021 decision was in Alabama Association of Realtors v United States Department of Health and Human Services.
Beginning under the Trump Administration, the CDC has issued orders under its public health-related authority that have essentially halted evictions from rental housing during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the significant risk of transmission of the disease. For example, one study found that “lifting eviction moratoria led to a 40% increased risk” of contracting COVID-19 among people who were evicted and people with whom they “shared housing after eviction.”
During the Trump Administration, several courts rejected challenges to the CDC eviction moratorium. After Joe Biden became president, however, several Trump judges have invalidated the moratorium as applied to particular landlords or in specific areas of the country.
In the case filed in DC by the Alabama Association of Realtors and others, however, the landlords and property owners asked that the CDC moratorium, which is scheduled to last until June 30, be invalidated everywhere in the country through one court order. Trump judge Friedrich issued just such an order. She claimed that the federal Public Health Service Act “does not” give the CDC the authority to issue a nationwide eviction moratorium. Friedrich also specifically rejected a Justice Department request to “limit” her order to the specific landlords and property orders “with standing before this Court,” as other judges have done, and required that the moratorium be “set aside” nationwide.
The effects of Trump judge Friedrich’s order are uncertain. The Justice Department has already indicated that it will seek a stay of the order pending its appeal to the DC Circuit. A Department lawyer has explained that the ruling “conflicts with the text of the statute, Congress’ ratification of the moratorium, and the rulings of other courts.” As soon as emergency rental assistance funds recently approved by Congress reach renters, moreover, the impact of the ruling may be mitigated.
As one expert has warned, however, without the moratorium, the “eviction floodgates would open, placing millions of families in jeopardy, thwarting the efforts to control the pandemic, and undercutting $46 billion in eviction prevention assistance” appropriated by Congress. This latest Trump judge decision reinforces the importance of our fight for our courts and the prompt confirmation of Biden nominees to the federal courts, including to the DC Circuit and the federal district court in DC.
UPDATE: In response to a DOJ request, Friedrich agreed to put the ruling on hold pending appeal at least until May 12. The Alabama realtors objected, however, and took the case all the way to the Supreme Court. On June 29, the Court rejected their effort to vacate the stay by a 5-4 vote, with Trump justices Barrett and Gorsuch dissenting, along with Alito and Thomas, without opinion. Trump justice Kavanaugh was the fifth vote in the majority, and explained that he actually agreed with the realtors, but voted to deny the motion to lift the stay for now because the moratorium is set to end “in a few weeks” at the end of July, although he stated that “clear and specific authorization from Congress” would be needed to extend the moratorium any further. Reports indicate that 7 million Americans are at risk of eviction, but will hopefully receive rental assistance appropriated by Congress before the moratorium ends on July 31 to avoid a “wave of evictions.”