What a federal judge called a losing argument still came out the winner Friday, giving the Biden administration the win on a round in court and allowing it to keep its eviction moratorium in place.
A ban on evictions was among the COVID-19 relief measures passed in the spring of 2020 when lockdowns led to employers closing their doors, leaving millions unable to pay their rent. Since then, the economy has largely reopened and long-term unemployment has lessened.
However, the administration sought to continue the moratorium. That hope was dashed when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that without any action on the part of Congress, the moratorium in effect last month ended July 31.
Although President Joe Biden said he was uncertain his administration was on solid legal grounds, it went ahead last week with a new moratorium that will last through Oct. 3.
His logic was that even if the administration lost, the moratorium would last long enough to allow some of the more than $45 billion in rental assistance that has been approved by Congress to get distributed to renters, who in theory would then pay their long-overdue rent, according to the Associated Press.
A group of Alabama landlords challenged the new moratorium in court, but lost the first round of their case in a decision issued Friday by U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, who said her “hands are tied.”
Her ruling said the moratorium was really nothing new, meaning she was not free to rule on its merits alone.
“Because the current moratorium is an extension, it is subject to the stay and can be challenged in this action. Even so, the law of the case doctrine prevents the Court from lifting the stay, and therefore, the Court will deny the plaintiffs’ motion,” she wrote in her ruling.
Peppered throughout the ruling were comments from the judge reflecting the fact that the moratorium, issued through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, could be struck down.
Is this eviction moratorium unfair to landlords?
“It is true that the Supreme Court’s recent decision in this case strongly suggests that the CDC is unlikely to succeed on the merits,” she wrote.
“Other decisions from the federal courts of appeals further suggest that the government is unlikely to prevail.”
But in one section, she got to the heart of her thorny problem.
“These intervening decisions call into question the D.C. Circuit’s conclusion that the CDC is likely to succeed on the merits. For that reason, absent the D.C. Circuit’s judgment, this Court would vacate the stay,” she wrote.
“But the Court’s hands are tied. The Supreme Court did not issue a controlling opinion in this case, and circuit precedent provides that the votes of dissenting Justices may not be combined with that of a concurring Justice to create binding law.”
So how do landlords get paid? When does that happen?
— EXXONPresidente (@brandon44269856) August 13, 2021
She then sent the landlords seeking help to another court.
“To lift the stay, the plaintiffs must accordingly seek relief before the D.C. Circuit,” she wrote.