A U.S. judge on Thursday ordered the Biden administration to respond to a lawsuit from a coalition of housing groups challenging a new eviction moratorium enacted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich gave the Department of Justice a 9 a.m. ET deadline on Friday to respond to an emergency legal challenge filed by the Alabama Association of Realtors late Wednesday, Reuters reports. The emergency motion accuses the CDC of issuing the new ban on evictions "for nakedly political reasons — to ease the political pressure, shift the blame to the courts for ending the moratorium, and use litigation delays to achieve a policy objective."
"[T]he CDC caved to the political pressure by extending the moratorium, without providing any legal basis," the motion says. "In substance and effect, the CDC's latest action is an extension of the same unlawful ban on evictions that has been in effect since September 2020."
In March 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, a coronavirus relief bill that created a 120-day ban on evictions that applied to rental properties receiving federal assistance. At the end of that period, the Trump administration Department of Health and Human Services issued a second eviction moratorium through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that unlike the CARES Act applied to all rental properties nationwide. President Joe Biden renewed that order several times and the realtor groups challenged it in court.
In May, Friedrich declared the CDC's order unlawful and the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which ultimately agreed with the lower court's decision but permitted the order to remain in effect until it finally expired on July 31.
Writing in a concurring opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the CDC could not extend the moratorium past July 31 without specific authorization from Congress.
Progressive lawmakers sought to pass a bill creating a new moratorium to ensure that the more than 15 million people in 6.5 million U.S. households who are currently behind on rent payments would not be evicted, but Congress failed to pass new legislation before the CDC's moratorium expired.
Facing pressure from Democrats, Biden's CDC took action Tuesday to create a new federal eviction ban that applies to "counties experiencing substantial and high levels of community transmission levels" of COVID-19.
The White House has defended the new moratorium, which appears to be in direct violation of the law and the Supreme Court's opinion, as a "new, targeted eviction moratorium — focused on counties with High or Substantial (coronavirus) case rates."
The new eviction moratorium is set to expire on Oct. 3 and is estimated to apply to 82% of U.S. counties and more than 90% of the population.
Facing questions from reporters on the legality of the CDC's new order, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that the Biden administration doesn't believe most Americans care whether the order is legal or not.
"I'm not sure there are Americans evaluating it to that degree, maybe there are some you've talked to," Psaki told a reporter who asked about the constitutionality of the order. "[Biden]'s gonna do everything in his power to make sure they can stay in their homes as long as possible."