The Department of Justice is backing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alleging the health agency’s new eviction moratorium is lawful.
“The department has vigorously defended the statutory authority of the CDC to issue [an] eviction moratorium and we will continue to do so,” Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters in Washington during an unrelated press conference on Thursday.
The CDC on Tuesday announced a fresh eviction pause for most of the United States, despite top Biden administration officials—including President Joe Biden—saying the agency could not legally do so because of recent court rulings.
For instance, the White House said on July 29 that the CDC would not extend an eviction ban that was about to expire because “the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.”
Gene Sparling, a senior adviser to Biden, told reporters on Aug. 2 that the CDC had tried but failed to “find the legal authority for even new, targeted eviction moratoriums.”
But Garland, a former federal judge, said his agency backs the CDC.
“This past week, there has been much attention to the impending risk of mass evictions, which would put millions of tenants at risk of losing shelter,” he said. “Needless to say the impact on individuals and families would be devastating. And as the CDC has made clear, the impact on public health would likewise be devastating, fueling the spread of COVID-19 infections in the affected communities.”
The Department of Justice will respond in the court case to the group of landlords, he added.
The court hearing the case on Thursday ordered the government to file a response by Aug. 6 at 9 a.m.
The Supreme Court indicated in a recent ruling that it was up to Congress whether to enact a new eviction ban, or continue the one that was in place.
The House of Representatives failed to pass a measure that would have extended the moratorium, prompting Democrats to pressure Biden to take executive action.
That led to the sudden new pause, which even Biden acknowledged was legally dubious.
“The bulk of the constitutional scholarship says that it’s not likely to pass constitutional muster. Number one. But there are several key scholars who think that it may and it’s worth the effort,” he told reporters on the same day the CDC made its announcement.
“I have been informed they’re about to make a judgment as to potential other options. Whether that option will pass constitutional measure with this administration, I can’t tell you. I don’t know. There are a few scholars who say it will and others who say it’s not likely to. But, at a minimum, by the time it gets litigated, it will probably give some additional time while we’re getting that $45 billion out to people who are, in fact, behind in the rent and don’t have the money,” he added.