The U.S. House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties called on Heritage Foundation expert Joel Griffith to testify on the constitutionality and legality of eviction moratoria.
The June 14 hearing focused on potential remedies for unlawful evictions in federal emergency areas. Griffith discussed the impact of state and local governments suppressing entire swaths of economic activity. He argued that property owners should not be forced to subsidize those state and local politicians choosing to shutter businesses and ruin livelihoods.
“The eviction moratoria [of the CDC along with state and local governments] of the past year unfairly burdened property owners with the cost of societal shutdowns, they created unintended consequences, and they implicated serious legal and constitutional concerns,” argued Griffith in his opening statement to Congress.
In discussing the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, he again emphasized that the difficulties caused by the pandemic should not be used an excuse to further erode private property rights, enlarge federal power beyond constitutional limits, rewrite legislation by executive fiat, or deny property owners access to the courts.
“Moratoria also invoke serious constitutional and legal concerns. They may violate the takings clause of the Fifth and the 14th Amendments, along with the Contract Clause,” argued Griffith. “Without a doubt, the CDC's ban on eviction proceedings was unlawful because it exceeded its congressional mandate. … But even if Congress had authorized the CDC to enact an eviction moratorium, such authorization would be unconstitutional. Congress may only delegate to the executive branch the powers granted to it by the Constitution. The Commerce Clause—upon which the CDC powers are based—does not provide a basis for Congress to prohibit citizens from seeking legal recourse in state courts for enforcement of rental contract provisions.”
A full video recording of the hearing can be found below.
Griffith writes and speaks regularly on free-market economics, specifically on topics such as taxes, federal spending choices, and welfare. One of his reports from the past year focused on the same topic as his House testimony: the COVID-19 pandemic and eviction moratoriums.
In a June 2020 commentary, Griffith argued, “Forcing property owners to provide free housing is a subtle form of expropriation of private property without just compensation. Politicians may enjoy a short-term boost in popularity from such measures. However, the unintended consequences are extensive.”
He continued, “Emphasizing the impact on the constitutional rights and federalism, these eviction moratoria unfairly burden property owners with the costs of societal shutdowns, create unintended consequences, and implicate serious legal and constitutional concerns.”
For further reading on topics like eviction moratoria and economic recovery from COVID-19, click here.