As part of a stated effort to “mitigate the spread” of COVID-19 by reducing homelessness or overcrowded shelters, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a temporary moratorium on many evictions.
A federal judge in Texas, however, recently ruled that the CDC — or any other government agency — lacked the authority under the U.S. Constitution to impose such regulations on landlords and property owners.
“Does not include the power”
According to The Hill, U.S. District Judge John Barker did not issue an injunction against the federal government’s ordered moratorium but left open the option for one to come later if necessary.
The judge, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, handed down a 21-page ruling in response to a lawsuit brought by Texas property managers against the CDC and other agencies. As stated in the court filing, the central issue dealt with the scope of the Constitution’s commerce clause — specifically whether regulating evictions was within the federal purview or a matter best left to state officials.
Litigants noted that, prior to last year, the federal government had never before taken such action regarding evictions or foreclosures, even during prior pandemics or other economic crises such as the Great Depression or times of war.
Ultimately, Baker concluded that “the federal government’s Article I power to regulate interstate commerce and enact laws necessary and proper to that end does not include the power to impose the challenged eviction moratorium.”
The judge’s ruling further affirmed that even though “the COVID-19 pandemic persists, so does the Constitution.”
“Notice to the Biden administration”
In the early days of the pandemic, the Trump administration enacted a 120-day moratorium on evictions by properties that received federal funding. That order was included in the subsequent CARES Act passed by lawmakers, expiring near the end of July.
About two months later, the CDC took it upon itself to reissue the moratorium as an agency order, this time making it applicable nationwide regardless of federal funding. It was set to expire at the end of the year but was again included in a second relief package that passed in Congress, extending the provision until the end of January.
On Feb. 3, the CDC once again implemented an extension to the moratorium until the end of March. Baker’s ruling, however, clarified that the court could find no precedents supporting the action and declared it unconstitutional.
In a statement praising the decision, attorney Kimberly Hermann, who represented the plaintiffs, said: “The court’s order today holding the CDC’s interference with private property rights under the veil of COVID-19 serves as notice to the Biden administration that the Constitution limits government power.”
It remains to be seen if the federal agency or Biden administration will back off from the moratorium or if Baker’s ruling will be heading to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.