With two weeks left before the federal eviction moratorium is set to expire on June 30, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford is fighting for the U.S. Supreme Court to maintain the nationwide pause on evictions ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
On Friday, Ford joined a coalition of 23 fellow Democratic attorneys general in issuing an amicus or “friend-of-the-court” brief asking the high court to maintain the CDC’s order prohibiting evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In their amicus brief, the attorneys general argued that the moratorium should remain in place because eliminating the ban would “irreparably harm the states,” Ford’s office said. The attorneys general added in the brief that with roughly half of U.S. adults still unvaccinated and children under the age of 12 still ineligible to receive the vaccine, removing the ban could cause cases to surge across the country.
In March 2020, Congress passed COVID-19 relief legislation that included an eviction moratorium for certain rental properties. When that legislation expired in July 2020, the CDC issued an eviction moratorium order that was originally set to expire on Dec. 31, 2020 but has been extended multiple times since then.
Opponents of the ban, including property owners, managers and trade associations, want to resume evictions. A federal district court judge based in Washington, D.C. ruled in May in Alabama Association of Realtors, et al. v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, et al. that the CDC does not have the authority to order a national eviction ban, but granted the government’s request to postpone enforcement of the court’s decision until reviewed and ruled upon by a court of appeals.
After the appeals court denied the plaintiffs’ request to cancel the lower court’s decision, the plaintiffs brought their request to the Supreme Court.
In their amicus brief, the attorneys general argued that the CDC has the authority to issue the ban because it concerns the “public health” of the nation. Lifting the ban would not only harm individuals at risk of eviction, but also would put their communities at risk, they argued. In addition, the coalition said that eliminating the order would “throw state COVID-19 responses into disarray” and that COVID-19, being a nationwide pandemic, requires a national response such as the CDC’s order.
“According to the CDC, as many as 30-40 million American renters are at risk of eviction, and at least four million are at ‘imminent risk,’” the amicus brief said.
In a July 2020 study, the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities, in partnership with the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project (CEDP), projected that had the moratorium not been extended, every county in Nevada would have been likely to experience an increase in evictions, with Clark County projected to see 249,700 people at risk of eviction.
State lawmakers recently passed AB486, which aims to speed up the backlogged process of distributing hundreds of millions of dollars of federal rental assistance. Maintaining the ban on evictions would give state and local governments more time to distribute payments to their residents, the attorneys general argued in the amicus brief.
Among the groups that are most vulnerable to COVID-19, those most likely to be harmed by a decision to lift the ban include persons of color and low-income people, according to a September 2020 study conducted by the Guinn Center. Americans at risk of eviction are also disproportionately unlikely to be vaccinated, according to the amicus brief.
Nevada had its own state-level eviction moratorium in place for much of the pandemic, but “the state moratorium will not be extended past the end of May,” Gov. Steve Sisolak has said.
In addition to the immediate impacts of extending protections for tenants for two more weeks, the decision on the ban also could affect the White House’s response to a public health crisis in the future, Lindsay Wiley, professor of law at American University and a public health law and ethics expert, told Law360.
Ford’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether potential long-term effects on the executive branch influenced his decision to join the coalition two weeks before it is set to expire.
“Americans need help, and that’s the bottom line,” said Ford in the recent statement. “While businesses are reopening, it will take time for those struggling to get back on their feet.”