By Matthew Vadum
The Texas Supreme Court has directed courts in the state to stop honoring the federal moratorium on residential evictions that a federal judge in the state already struck down in late February as unconstitutional.
The Texas Supreme Court’s 34th emergency order that applied the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) moratorium on evictions expired March 31 and hasn’t been renewed, which means new and paused eviction applications may now move forward.
The Texas Justice Court Training Center, which is responsible for training eviction court judges, is now encouraging judges to set new hearings for old cases that were put on hold by the CDC order, to determine if landlords want to proceed.
“This just means that the courts in Texas would follow Texas procedure in law, which doesn’t have anything in it about the CDC moratorium. Now there could be local laws that would maybe have a moratorium,” said Theadora Wallen, the Center’s executive director, according to the Texas Tribune.
One lawyer said she fears the worst.
“I think that it’s fair to say that the entire state is now under threat of massive eviction,” Dana Karni, managing attorney with Lone Star Legal Aid, told Houston Public Media. “The fact that the Texas Supreme Court emergency order is not being renewed is definitely a blunt blow to tenants and tenant protections.
“At this point, the only protection we have is from the CDC,” she said. “The floodgates have now been opened.”
U.S. District Judge J. Campbell Barker of the Eastern District of Texas ruled against the eviction moratorium in a declaratory judgment on Feb. 25.
“Although the COVID-19 pandemic persists, so does the Constitution,” Barker wrote in a case known as Terkel v. CDC.
The CDC order “exceeds the power granted to the federal government to ‘regulate Commerce … among the several States’ and to ‘make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution’ that power,” he wrote, citing provisions of the Constitution.
“The CDC attempted to use COVID-19 as an opportunity to grab power and the court rightfully corrected this egregious overreach. This case puts down a marker. There are real, meaningful, limits to federal power under our Constitution. And pandemic or not, federal courts have a ‘virtually unflagging obligation’ to impose those limits in cases brought before them,” said Texas Public Policy Foundation general counsel Robert Henneke, citing the decision.
The CDC has argued that the eviction ban was needed to curb the spread of the CCP virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, although tenants could invoke the ban whether they suffered from virus-related hardships or not.
Congress enacted a nationwide moratorium on evictions that expired July 24, 2020. Weeks later, then-President Donald Trump directed his administration to consider whether such a measure should be part of efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 moving forward. In response, the CDC ordered a moratorium on some, but not all, evictions. That moratorium differed from the one Congress enacted. It has been extended repeatedly.
The Biden administration supports the ban. Its current termination date is June 30.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a historic threat to the nation’s public health. Keeping people in their homes and out of crowded or congregate settings—like homeless shelters—by preventing evictions is a key step in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky said, according to CNN.
A federal judge in Ohio struck down the CDC moratorium on March 10, finding it exceeded the agency’s authority.
The ruling came in the case known as Skyworks Ltd. v. CDC.
Attorney Luke Wake of the Pacific Legal Foundation, who represented a group of landlords in the lawsuit, said at the time that he was pleased with the court’s decision.
“This vindicates the rights of landlords, but it also speaks to what we’ve been saying all along—that CDC had no authority to do this,” Wake told The Epoch Times.