(Special to Bay City News/New Africa)

A federal judge on Wednesday struck down a national residential eviction moratorium imposed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The judge ruled that the CDC exceeded the authority delegated to it by Congress. By its terms, the decision does not directly affect eviction moratoria enacted at the state and local level.

The CDC first issued a temporary moratorium on residential evictions on Sept. 4, 2020. The CDC’s rationale was that a moratorium would facilitate self-isolation and enhance the ability of local governments to issue shelter-in-place protocols.

The moratorium barred landlords from evicting tenants who met various criteria, including earning less than $99,000 in annual income and being unable to pay full rent due to medical expenses or a loss of income.

The CDC order, originally set to expire at the end of 2020, was extended by Congress until Jan. 31, 2021. The CDC subsequently extended the moratorium two more times. The latest extension is currently scheduled to expire June 30.

The moratorium was challenged by a group of landlords and real estate trade organizations from Alabama and Georgia. They raised a number of issues, including that the CDC had exceeded its authority.

U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Langhorne Friedich based her decision on the language of the relevant statue which authorized the CDC to issue regulations “to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases.”

However, that seemingly broad grant of authority was qualified, in the judge’s opinion, by immediately following language that said, “For purposes of carrying out and enforcing such regulations” the CDC was authorized to take a variety of action relating to livestock and animals — such as disinfecting, fumigating or terminating them — to eliminate a potential source of infection.

The Judge said the two authorizations had to be read together and therefore the CDC’s power was much narrower than it contended.

The judge rejected the argument that Congress — by its order extending the original CDC moratorium — must have thought that the CDC order was lawful and therefore its action had ratified the CDC’s power to act.

The judge agreed that Congress can ratify action beyond a federal agency’s powers, but she said that Congress must make its intention to do so clear. Finding no such clear intent, the judge vacated the CDC order.

The Washington, D.C., court where the ruling came from is not the first court to consider the CDC moratorium. The judge noted that six courts have considered similar challenges and at least two found that the CDC had exceeded its authority. The judge noted, however, that two other courts declined to enjoin the CDC order, at least on a preliminary basis.

Judge Friedich was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by President Donald Trump in 2017. The Senate voted 97-3 in favor of her confirmation.