This morning, the 11.4 million Americans who are behind on rent woke up in a country in which state agents could soon forcibly remove them and their families from their homes.
In addition to the moral dubiousness—to say the least—of privileging the rights of landlords to make passive income over the rights of poor people to have shelter, blocking the eviction moratorium is primed to be a public health disaster.
A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that “[t]he expiration of eviction moratoriums was associated with increased COVID-19 incidence and mortality, supporting the public-health rationale for eviction prevention to limit COVID-19 cases and deaths.”
By invalidating the targeted eviction moratorium more than a month before it was due to expire—and precluding any future extensions—the Court is actively putting the health and safety of the evicted and those they come into contact with because they were evicted at risk.
The unsigned order was supported by the six conservative justices, who said that the CDC went too far in issuing the moratorium.
“The CDC has imposed a nationwide moratorium on evictions in reliance on a decades-old statute that authorizes it to implement measures like fumigation and pest extermination,” the opinion said. “It strains credulity to believe that this statute grants the CDC the sweeping authority that it asserts.”
The implication that a statue is somehow less than because it’s “decades-old” is interesting for a group whose job it is to interpret a document that dates to the 18th century.
The CDC contended that evictions would force people “to move, often into close quarters in new shared housing settings with friends or family, or congregate settings such as homeless shelters,” thus increasing the spread of COVID-19. Its protestations fell on deaf ears, and the conservative justices invalidated a measure that literally saved lives but ran counter to the political interests of the party that empowered them.
The three other justices were adamant in their opposition to the decision, which risks the health not just of those who could be evicted but the additional people they will inevitably come into contact with as the Delta variant spreads rapidly through the United States.
They also took issue with the manner in which the order was issued.
“These questions call for considered decision-making, informed by full briefing and argument,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote. “Their answers impact the health of millions. We should not set aside the CDC’s eviction moratorium in this summary proceeding.”
“[T]he public interest is not favored by the spread of disease or a court’s second-guessing of the CDC’s judgment,” he continued.
The entire episode is a compelling argument for a host of reforms, from making the Senate less of a counter-majoritarian institution, to altering the composition of a Supreme Court that has become a tool of the conservative movement.
In the short term, however, there’s the matter of protecting the millions of people and families who are now at risk of eviction. The conservatives said that Congress could pass an eviction moratorium, something that formerly unhoused Rep. Cori Bush—whose protest sleeping on the Capitol steps is why the moratorium existed in the first place—immediately called for.