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Federal judge in Texas rules eviction moratorium unconsitutional

A US district court judge in Texas has ruled that a federal eviction moratorium put in place due to tenants economic hardship brought on by the coronavirus pandemic is unconstitutional, a judgement that could prompt the immediate evictions of hundreds of thousands of people from rented homes, CNN reports.

An appointee of Donald Trump, Judge John Barker Eastern District of Texas stopped short of issuing an immediate injunction that would void the moratorium, saying that he expected the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal agency under which the moratorium falls, to immediately withdraw the moratorium.

“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,” Barker wrote.

As of August 1, 2020, roughly one-third of residential renters had missed at least one rent payment since the pandemic began.  Congress passed, and Donald Trump signed into law, an eviction moratorium in March 2020 with the CARES Act, which provided aid to people impacted by economic losses from the pandemic.  Trump issued an executive order, called the Eviction Moratorium Order, to extend the order through October.  The second coronavirus relief bill, signed in December, extended it through January.  President Biden extended it through March.  The basis of the order was that coronavirus presents a public health crisis which would be escalated by eviction.

A continuation of the moratorium is part of the pending $1.9 billion COVID relief package before Congress now.  President Joe Biden has said that financial assistance for independent landlords–those who rent twenty or fewer properties and who control a majority of residential rental properties–is a priority in the upcoming aid package.

A group of Texas landlords, represented by two conservative advocacy groups, sued the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services claiming that the eviction moratorium overreached in federal power.

“The CDC attempted to use COVID-19 as an opportunity to grab power and the court rightfully corrected this egregious overreach,” Robert Henneke, one of the lawyers in the case and general counsel for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said in a statement.  The other group in the case was the Southeastern Legal Foundation.

According to a January survey by the Census Bureau, an estimated 10 million Americans are behind in rent payments and could be evicted.  Sixteen million renters were uncertain that they could pay their February rent.  Additionally, six million homeowners were late on paying mortgage payments coming into 2020.

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