Supreme Court overturns ban on US evictions

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Supreme Court US updates

The US Supreme Court has invalidated the Biden administration’s coronavirus pandemic-related moratorium on evictions, in a ruling that risks driving millions of Americans out of their homes.

The 6-3 decision by the country’s highest court was made along ideological lines, with all six Republican-appointed conservatives voting in favour of striking down the evictions moratorium and the three Democratic-appointed justices voting to maintain it.

The ruling followed a legal and political tug of war in Washington over US housing policy. After Congress failed to renew a federal evictions moratorium that expired on July 31, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention introduced a new one unilaterally as an urgent measure to tackle the impact of a wave of Covid infections.

However, the Supreme Court’s majority ruled that the CDC had exceeded its authority in imposing the evictions ban without legislation after hearing a challenge from a group of Alabama realtors.

“It would be one thing if Congress had specifically authorised the action that the CDC has taken. But that has not happened. Instead, the CDC has imposed a nationwide moratorium on evictions in reliance on a decades-old statute that authorises it to implement measures like fumigation and pest extermination,” according to the Supreme Court’s unsigned opinion.

“It strains credulity to believe that this statute grants the CDC the sweeping authority that it asserts,” the court added.

The decision will remove a crucial layer of legal protection for struggling renters across the US at a time when many households were already facing the loss of emergency jobless benefits tied to the $1.9tn fiscal stimulus enacted in March.

However, the Supreme Court ruling did not invalidate local laws preventing evictions in many cities and states across the country, which could protect some families from losing their homes.

“The Biden administration is disappointed that the Supreme Court has blocked the most recent CDC eviction moratorium while confirmed cases of the Delta variant are significant across the country. As a result of this ruling, families will face the painful impact of evictions, and communities across the country will face greater risk of exposure to Covid-19,” Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said on Thursday.

She added that President Joe Biden was “once again calling on all entities that can prevent evictions — from cities and states to local courts, landlords, cabinet agencies — to urgently act to prevent evictions”.

Biden administration officials had sought to keep the moratorium in place in order to reduce the risk of a homelessness crisis with the pandemic still raging and the labour market not yet fully recovered from the shock of 2020.

But realtors and their lobbyists in Washington had argued that the ban risked hurting small property owners most acutely and called for more robust rental assistance instead.

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