Texas judge finds national eviction ban unconstitutional
An eviction notice in Los Angeles.
Lucy Nicholson | Reuters
A federal judge in Texas has ruled that the national ban on evictions that’s been in place since September is unconstitutional.
“Although the Covid-19 pandemic persists, so does the Constitution,” U.S. District Judge John Barker wrote Thursday evening, siding with a group of property managers who argued that the ban exceeds the power of the federal government.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national eviction moratorium was first announced under former President Donald Trump in September 2020. It prohibited evicting renters who were financially struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic.
President Joe Biden has since extended the moratorium through March, and has called for it to be kept in effect through September 2021.
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The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Landlords have criticized the CDC’s moratorium, saying the government was overstepping its authority and that they can’t afford to house nonpaying tenants. There have also been court challenges to the moratorium in Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee, though they were all unsuccessful.
Advocates of the ban quickly slammed the ruling, and feared it would trigger a flood of eviction filings. The winter storms that have led to massive power outages across Texas will only worsen the situation, they say.
“This decision is a major deviation from all other district court decisions that upheld the CDC moratorium as constitutional,” said Emily Benfer, a visiting professor of law at Wake Forest University.
“The CDC moratorium is a critical pandemic mitigation measure that protects health and safety by preventing the community spread of COVID-19 due to eviction,” she said.
Indeed, research has found that evictions lead to significantly more coronavirus cases and deaths in an area. By one estimate, there were worries about paying rent in more than 1.7 million households in Texas during the pandemic.
The judge in Texas hasn’t issued an injunction yet, though he suggested he later could. Such a move would leave millions of Americans at risk of eviction.
Advocates hope the White House will intervene quickly.
“All eyes now are on the Biden administration to see how and if they plan to vigorously defend the CDC eviction moratorium in the courts,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.