Federal Judge in Texas Rules Government's COVID-Related Eviction Moratorium Is Unconstitutional


Homeless camps sit along the I-35 frontage road in Austin, Texas on February 17, 2021.
Homeless camps sit along the I-35 frontage road in Austin, Texas on February 17, 2021.
Photo: Montinique Monroe (Getty Images)

Sometimes it really feels like America is The Bad Place.

On the heels of the depressing news that a long-overdue increase of the federal minimum wage to $15 will no longer be included in the COVID-19 relief bill currently in Congress comes a federal court ruling that will undoubtedly make life harder for Americans already struggling under the protracted pandemic.

CNN reports that U.S. District Judge John Barker on Thursday struck down the eviction moratorium put in place by the government to protect public health and housing stability during the spread of the coronavirus. The moratorium was first implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under the Trump administration, and one of President Biden’s first actions upon taking office was to extend it until at least the end of March.

However, Barker, who was appointed by Trump, has ruled in favor of landlords and property owners in Texas who challenged the government’s authority to stop evictions.

According to CNN, Barker wrote in his decision that although the pandemic persists, “so does the Constitution.”

“The federal government cannot say that it has ever before invoked its power over interstate commerce to impose a residential eviction moratorium. It did not do so during the deadly Spanish Flu pandemic. Nor did it invoke such a power during the exigencies of the Great Depression. The federal government has not claimed such a power at any point during our Nation’s history until last year,” he added.

Robert Henneke, a lawyer representing the property owners who brought the case against the government, issued a statement saying, “The CDC attempted to use COVID-19 as an opportunity to grab power and the court rightfully corrected this egregious overreach.”

The judge said he expects the CDC to withdraw the moratorium order in light of his decision. The ruling will undoubtedly have devastating consequences for millions of families across the country—Black families, especially.

An analysis of Census Bureau data by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that 13 million people across the country said they were not caught up on their rent this month. The majority of the people who have fallen behind on their rent are Black (29 percent of those surveyed), compared to 22 percent of Latinos, and 13 percent of White respondents.

The CDC moratorium order explained that being unhoused increases the likelihood that people will move into crowded places to live, such as homeless shelters, which will then put them at higher risk for getting COVID-19. Living unsheltered also increases the likelihood that people will have severe illness from the coronavirus, the CDC said.

To benefit from the eviction moratorium, tenants had to sign a declaration that they experienced a significant loss of income and have made their best efforts to make rent payments or attain rental assistance. The order only temporarily halted evictions for non-payment of rent; it did not cancel or forgive rent payments.

The Department of Justice has not said if it will appeal the ruling.

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