“Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties. Cases in the series can be found by issue and by judge at this link.
Trump Sixth Circuit judge John Bush wrote an opinion, joined by Trump judge Amul Thapar, that ruled that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) did not have authority to order an important COVID-related moratorium on evictions, despite earlier decisions upholding the moratorium under President Trump. The July 2021 decision was in Tiger Lily LLC v US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
As previously reported in this blog, beginning under the Trump Administration, the CDC issued orders that halted evictions from rented apartments due to documented evidence of the health-related harm such evictions can and do create during the COVID-19 pandemic. Altho such orders were upheld even by Trump judges during the Trump Administration, Trump judges began to rule CDC eviction moratorium orders illegal under President Biden.
This is illustrated by what happened in Tennessee, where a Trump district judge denied a request for an injunction against the moratorium by landlords and property owners last November. After the Biden Administration extended the moratorium, however, the same Trump judge ruled that the agency had no authority to take the action and that the moratorium could not be enforced in his jurisdiction in western Tennessee. In March, despite an immediate request by the Justice Department to stay the decision pending appeal because of the potentially irreparable harm that lifting the moratorium would cause, including a “40% increased risk” of contracting COVID-19, Trump judges Thapar and Bush cast key votes to leave the lower court order in place while the appeal continued.
In July, Bush wrote an opinion joined by Thapar that rejected the Justice Department appeal and ruled that the law relied on by the CDC does not give it the authority to order a nationwide moratorium, despite earlier rulings upholding such orders. Even though Bush acknowledged that the DC Circuit had recently indicated that the broad language of the law “authorizes the CDC’s order,” he maintained the language should not be read to “grant the CDC the power to insert itself into the landlord-tenant relationship” and promulgate an eviction moratorium because there was no “clear textual evidence of Congress’ intent to do so.”
Both Bush’s majority opinion and a concurring opinion by Trump judge Thapar, moreover, suggested that Congress could not grant the CDC the broad authority to promulgate an eviction moratorium. They based this on the non-delegation doctrine, a discredited view that some Trump judges have tried to revive in order to limit Congressional and administrative authority. As Thapar argued, it should not be “the job of bureaucrats embedded in the executive branch” to make “rules that favor” tenants over landlords, as he saw the situation during the pandemic.
Hopefully the impact of this decision itself will be limited. The moratorium is scheduled to expire at the end of July, and the CDC is not expected to extend it further. Such decisions nevertheless have harmful impact. As the Memphis Tenants Union explained in criticizing an earlier decision in the case, the ruling “has prioritized the economic interests of landlords over the health and safety of renters in West Tennessee,” including “Black women and working class families with children.” As with earlier Trump judge holdings on the eviction moratorium, this case emphasizes the importance of counteracting the dangerous views of Trump judges through the nomination and confirmation of fair-minded judges nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the Senate.