Merrick Garland calls on ‘entire legal community’ to block evictions after Supreme Court rejects moratorium

Sweeping call to legal aid providers aims to ‘ensure access to justice for vulnerable tenants,’ according to White House

Alex Woodward
New York
Monday 30 August 2021 20:54 BST
Members of Congress camp on US Capitol steps to protest end of coronavirus eviction moratorium
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US Attorney General Merrick Garland has summoned “the entire legal community” to help prevent evictions following US Supreme Court decision that rejected a federal moratorium, exposing thousands of vulnerable Americans from losing their housing during the coronavirus pandemic.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that the attorney general has urged law schools, legal clinics and major law firms to “take immediate action to help prevent unnecessary evictions during this public health emergency.”

The sweeping call to legal aid providers aims to “ensure access to justice for vulnerable tenants,” she said.

His call follows a letter, joined by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Housing Secretary Marcia Fudge, to governors, mayors, court administrators and other officials to request “urgent help” in preventing unnecessary evictions by implementing local-level eviction bans, requirements for landlords to file for relief before commencing eviction proceedings, and preventing cases from moving forward while aid is pending, among other actions.

The Supreme Court on 26 August overturned Joe Biden administration’s latest freeze on evictions, a decision that could jeopardise millions of Americans who have fallen behind on rent, even as billions of dollars in federal aid has struggled to reach them.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program, supported by two sweeping congressional relief packages, has distributed about $5bn of more than $46bn to assist renters and landlords with housing payments and utilities, marking roughly 11 per cent of the total appropriated by Congress, according to the Treasury Department.

Aid to roughly 1 million households has trickled out at a modest pace – aid was distributed to 341,000 households in July, up from 293,000 in June and 157,000 in May – and the Treasury Department points to rent relief supporting the lowest-income Americans, with 60 per cent of households earning no more than 30 per cent of their area’s median income, according to the White House.

At least 40 law school deans have “already committee law students and clinics” to providing legal aid to renters facing eviction, according to Ms Psaki.

The nation’s high court has said that salvaging a moratorium – which was imposed through the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – would require an act of Congress. The court ruled that the CDC had exceeded its authority.

“If a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it,” according to the majority opinion.

Writing for the dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer argued that the court hastily reached a decision and failed to give consideration to its resounding impacts.

“Their answers impact the health of millions,” he wrote. “We should not set aside the CDC’s eviction moratorium in this summary proceeding.”

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