Federal Judge Overturns CDC’s COVID-19 Eviction Moratorium as a Unconstitutional Power Grab

Maricopa County constable Darlene Martinez signals an eviction order on October 7, 2020 at Phoenix, Arizona. Countless court-ordered evictions continue nationwide despite a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) moratorium for renters impacted from the coronavirus pandemic. Although county and state officials say they’ve tried to educate the public on the protections, so many renters stay unaware and don’t complete the necessary forms to stay in their houses. Oftentimes landlords have worked out more flexible payment plans by vulnerable tenants, although these temporary solutions have become fraught since the pandemic drags on.

The arrangement, which has just been enforced invisibly across the country due to the fact that many landlords have disregarded it and courts have been loath to enforce it, has staved off eviction and homelessness for tens of thousands of Americans. Those families now face an increasingly uncertain future.
In a 20-page memorandum view, Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich found that CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky exceeded her authority when she recently issued the”Temporary Halt at Residential Evictions To Avoid the Further Spread of COVID-19″ order in early September 2020 in the behest of their 45th president.
The order was then extended and later endorsed by the U.S. Congress and present President Joe Biden.
“[T]he CDC dictate must be put aside,” the court ruled — stressing that vacating the arrangement nationwide was in line with”settled precedent” along with the relevant federal law governing administrative agencies.
Even the CDC missive, twice as revived, declared that”a landlord, proprietor of a residential property, or other individual having a valid right to pursue eviction or possessory action shall not evict any insured individual” and provided guidelines for renters to file for housing safe harbors amidst the broad and profound economic chaos resulting from the pandemic.
Three property management companies resisted because a number of the tenants ceased paying rent, invoked the protections of the CDC’s flooding moratorium, and therefore couldn’t be evicted.
The plaintiffs alleged many procedural complaints contrary to the CDC, but the D.C. District Court began and ended its analysis by finding out the agency had exceeded its authority with the order.
Judge Friedrich used the administrative law frame in the landmark case of Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., which can be a multiple-step inquiry that decides whether or not an administrative agency is entitled to judicial deference over its own interpretation of a statute composed by Congress.
The question’s first step is to evaluate whether “Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue,” which is another way of asking whether the statute is ambiguous or not. Only if the statute is found to be ambiguous by a court will the extra steps be contemplated. Here, the amount of steps the court permits itself to take is often determinative in the way the decision is reached.
The court’s answer to the initial question is typically dispositive. And that is what happened .
“In Chevron’s first step, this Court should use the’ordinary tools of their judicial craft,’ including canons of building,” she wrote. “All these canons confirm what the plain text reveals. The Secretary’s authority does not extend as far as the Department claims”
Judge Friedrich said the statute at issue is apparent — despite numerous attempts by the CDC to offer counter explanations for what specific provisions in the Public Health Service Act imply.
“The Department’s interpretation goes far.” The court stated. “The first sentence of [the statute] is the starting point in assessing the scope of the Secretary’s delegated authority. However, it is not the end point. Although it is true that Congress granted the Secretary broad authority to safeguard the public health, in addition, it prescribed clear ways in which the Secretary may achieve this purpose. And these means put concrete limits on the steps the Department can choose to prevent the interstate and international spread of illness. To translate the Act otherwise would ignore its structure and text.”
The court offered another reason to reverse the moratorium:
[T]that the canon of constitutional avoidance teaches that a court shall construe a statute to avoid serious constitutional problems unless such a construction is against the clear intent of Congress. An excessively expansive reading of the statute which extends a nearly unlimited supply of legislative power to the Secretary would raise serious constitutional concerns, as other courts have found. Congress didn’t express a clear intent to grant that the Secretary such sweeping power.

Accepting the Department’s expansive interpretation of the Act would indicate that Congress assigned to the Secretary the ability to resolve not just this important question, but endless others which are likewise subject to”earnest and profound debate across the country.” Under its own reading, as long as that the Secretary will make a conclusion that a given step is”required” to combat the international spread of illness, there’s no limit to the reach of his authority.
“In sum, the Public Health Service Act authorizes the Department [of Health and Human Services] to combat the spread of illness by means of a range of steps, but these steps clearly do not encircle the nationwide eviction moratorium put forth from the CDC Order,” the ruling continued.
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