A spot of good news in sea of bad news
On Thursday, a grim day, in a depressing month, in a terrible year, there is some good news: the Supreme Court killed the CDC's efforts to destroy private property. In a per curium decision, the six non-leftist Supreme Court justices held that the CDC lacks the authority to impose eviction moratoriums. This is a huge victory, not just for property-owners, but for the American way of life.
The Court, appropriately, goes through the entire procedural history leading to its decision in Alabama Association of Realtors v. Department of Health and Human Services, issued on August 26. I'll give you the down and dirty chronology.
In March 2020, as part of its first COVID relief bill, Congress imposed a 120-day eviction moratorium tied to properties participating in federal assistance programs or subject to federally backed loans. When it expired, the CDC announced that all evictions in America had to cease through December 31, or the landlords would be criminally liable
Because America was in the grip of COVID madness, BLM/George Floyd madness, and election madness, the CDC got away with it. Congress threw it a lifeline with the second COVID relief bill, extending the moratorium through the end of January 2021. When that deadline arrived, the CDC once again issued its own moratorium, which it kept extending month by month.
In May, the plaintiffs sued to stop the moratorium. They prevailed at the district court level, but the court then stayed its order because it viewed the legal question as too serious to act upon without giving the government a chance to appeal. It was this stay that the Supreme Court didn't bother to vacate because the moratorium was due to expire in any event. Justice Kavanaugh, though, made it clear that on the merits, the CDC lacked the authority to act.
When the moratorium expired on July 31, the CDC ignored Justice Kavanaugh and again reinstated the moratorium. The plaintiffs went back to court and, again, ended up before the Supreme Court. This time, the Court acted on the merits.
All six of the Supreme Court's non-leftist justices joined together to say the eviction moratorium was unconstitutional because it exceeded the CDC's statutory authority to act in the case of infectious diseases. (My "non-leftist" phrasing recognizes the fact that the only reliably conservative justices — that is, justices who hew closely to the Constitution and its limits on government power — are Justices Thomas and Alito. The remaining non-leftist justices are not reliable.)
The justices pointed out that the applicable statute — §361(a) of the Public Health Service Act, which was passed in 1944 — gives the Health and Human Services agency the power to control communicable diseases and has been used for things such as banning the sale of small turtles, which carry salmonella, and quarantining specific individuals. For HHS to involve itself in private property rights far exceeds its mandate under the statute.
And that's the decision in a nutshell. It's the right decision, too. If unelected government agencies can exert complete control over private property, going so far as to impose criminal liability on people for exercising their legal rights over that property, we have gone beyond fascism (state control but with private property rights) and moved into proto-communism (all property is held in the state).
In America, a significant percentage of landlords (and I don't know the number, but it's big) are people who rent out their property (or parts of their property) to help pay off a mortgage or provide income for their retirement. While the tenants have lived rent-free for a year, these property-owners continue to have to pay mortgages and the various fees associated with the properties (taxes, insurance, utilities, etc.).
Freedom from rent has also been an incentive for idleness for those people receiving their monthly COVID stimulus checks from the government. There are definitely people who are in dire financial straits, but we know that many states are facing massive unemployment numbers even though employers are begging for workers because stimulus checks are nicer than a boring or hard job. This is terrible for the economy and also terrible for the human condition. It's bad for people to be infantilized wards of the state. Work, even boring, yucky work, is part of "adulting."
By reinstating rent and evictions, the Supreme Court did something good — just as it did when it reinstated Trump's remain in Mexico policy. We should cherish these moments because they'll be few and far between as long as Biden/Harris, Pelosi, and Schumer have control over the federal government.
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