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Federal judge rules national eviction moratorium exceeds the CDC's authority

Brian M. Boynton, acting assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Civil Division, said the agency "respectfully disagrees" with the judge's decision.

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's national eviction moratorium aimed at helping victims of the pandemic hold onto their homes exceeds the agency's authority and should be vacated.

"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," Judge Dabney Friedrich, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, wrote in a 20-page ruling finding that the moratorium — which was scheduled to remain in place until June 30 — should be vacated.

The judge noted that while Congress had ratified earlier extensions of the moratorium order, it had not done so for the latest extension.

It's unclear what the immediate impact of the ruling will be.

Brian M. Boynton, acting assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Civil Division, said the agency "respectfully disagrees" with the judge's decision.

“The department has already filed a notice of appeal of the decision and intends to seek an emergency stay of the order pending appeal,” Boynton said in a statement.

He said the moratorium “protects many renters who cannot make their monthly payments due to job loss or health care expenses. Scientific evidence shows that evictions exacerbate the spread of COVID-19, which has already killed more than half a million Americans, and the harm to the public that would result from unchecked evictions cannot be undone."

The ruling is one of several conflicting decisions on the issue, which Friedrich noted in her decision. "In the last several months, at least six courts have considered various statutory and constitutional challenges to the CDC order," she wrote.

In one of those cases, a federal judge in Texas ruled the eviction moratorium was unconstitutional. The government has appealed that decision.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during her daily news briefing that the DOJ was "reviewing" the latest decision but that the moratorium had been "a huge benefit" for struggling renters.

"We also recognize of course the importance of the eviction moratorium for Americans who have fallen behind on rent during the pandemic. A recent study estimates that there were 1.5 million fewer evictions filed during 2020 than would be expected due to the eviction moratorium," Psaki said.

Numerous landlords have criticized the policy and challenged it in court, arguing it's made it impossible for them to make ends meet.

Bob Pinnegar, president of the landlord advocacy group the National Apartments Association, praised the ruling, which he said "reinforces just how far the CDC overstepped their authority."

"Eviction moratoriums are dangerous, detrimental policies that harm housing affordability, housing providers and our residents," he said.

The moratorium was first enacted as part of the first coronavirus stimulus bill, the Cares Act, signed by then-President Donald Trump last March. It expired in July and was followed by the order from the CDC in September. That order was initially set to expire at the end of January but has since been extended through by President Joe Biden's CDC director, Rochelle P. Walensky.

Michael Kosnar contributed.