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CDC Should Stay in Its Lane

Corey Friedman on

For an agency long vulnerable to mission creep, it was only a matter of time.

A federal judge finally reined in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, striking down its sweeping eviction moratorium on the grounds that it exceeds the CDC's congressionally delegated authority.

In a 20-page memorandum opinion released Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich rejected the CDC's power grab. Tossing tenants out of their homes may increase the risk of coronavirus transmission, he wrote, but that doesn't place the United States' 11 million landlords under the public health agency's thumb.

"It is the role of the political branches, and not the courts, to assess the merits of policy measures designed to combat the spread of disease, even during a global pandemic," Friedrich wrote. "The question for the Court is a narrow one: Does the Public Health Service Act grant the CDC the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium? It does not."

Millions of Americans fell behind on rent due to emergency restrictions that forced businesses to close or limit their services, resulting in layoffs and steep reductions to hourly employees' work schedules. At least 43 states and the District of Columbia temporarily halted evictions during the pandemic, the judge noted in his order.

Congress dipped its toes into the water when it passed the CARES Act in March 2020. The $2.2 trillion aid package included a 120-day eviction moratorium for public housing and federally subsidized rental properties.

 

When the four-month freeze expired, then-President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing the Department of Health and Human Services and CDC to evaluate the necessity of additional measures to pause residential evictions. Under then-Director Robert Redfield, the CDC instituted a Sept. 4 moratorium applying to all rental properties in the United States.

Originally set to expire on Dec. 31, the CDC order was extended three times -- once by Congress and twice by the agency itself. A coalition of plaintiffs including the Alabama Association of Realtors sued the DHHS and CDC in November, leading to last week's court decision.

Housing advocates are raising concerns that the coronavirus pandemic could spawn a homelessness epidemic, and the U.S. Department of Justice said it would appeal Friedrich's ruling.

If an eviction moratorium is sound public policy, Congress should do its job and enact one through actual legislation. A flawed process can sometimes produce a desirable outcome, but the ends don't justify the means.

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