A federal judge in Washington, D.C., declined Friday to block the moratorium on evictions imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a victory for the Biden administration’s effort to keep renters in their homes during the Covid-19 pandemic.
U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich rejected an effort by a group of property owners to put the moratorium on hold. She said she was bound by an appeals court panel’s conclusion that an earlier version of the moratorium, based on the same claim of authority the CDC is making now, should be allowed to remain in effect as a public health measure.
“Absent the D.C. circuit’s judgment, this court would vacate the stay” and block the moratorium, the judge said.
The groups challenging the moratorium can now appeal, but it is likely to remain in effect while the legal wrangling plays out. That could take up to two months.
A group of landlords, led by the Alabama Association of Realtors challenged the CDC’s first moratorium as well as the latest one. The Biden administration argued that the new version, issued last week, was substantially different.
The first moratorium applied to renters nationwide. The revised version applies only in counties with a high rate of Covid transmission. Government lawyers conceded, however, that at least 80 percent of the nation’s counties are in that category.
Congress imposed a four-month moratorium on evictions in March 2020. When it expired, the CDC, under the Trump administration, issued a moratorium of its own, which expired at the end of July.
The CDC argued that public health laws gave it the authority to issue orders intended to stop the spread of communicable diseases. In May, Friedrich ruled that the CDC lacked the authority for such a sweeping order but stayed her own order to allow the government a chance to appeal.
The landlords asked the D.C. Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court to lift her stay. Both courts declined, but four Supreme Court justices said they would have granted the request.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh said he would have, too, but decided not to because the moratorium at that point in late July had only a few weeks left. He said only Congress could impose such a nationwide moratorium.
The challengers argued that because the Supreme Court signaled that the CDC lacked the necessary legal authority, the current moratorium is invalid too because it is based on the same public health law.