Housing Clinic Advocates for Eviction Moratorium in SCOTUS Case

supreme court

The Yale Law School Housing Clinic co-authored an amici curiae brief in support of the national moratorium on evictions during the pandemic, a respite that will stand for another month after a Supreme Court ruling on June 29.

In a 5-4 vote, the Court rejected a challenge of the moratorium by landlords and the real estate industry and sided with the federal government, which wanted to keep the moratorium in place to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. The temporary halt on evictions was created by executive order in 2020 and later extended by Congress. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention subsequently extended the temporary ban on evictions three times. The moratorium was due to expire on July 31.

The 22 amici included national organizations focused on health and housing, as well as the leading American experts on evictions, public health, health, and sociology — many of them professors at Yale. The brief was filed by Emily A. Benfer, a Visiting Professor of Law at Wake Forest University, and Yale Law School Housing Clinic Professor J.L. Pottenger Jr. ’75 and student director Evan Walker-Wells ’22. The Supreme Court brief is the seventh brief the group has filed on the CDC moratorium in federal courts this school year — four in U.S. district courts and two in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Housing Clinic’s brief argued that the Supreme Court should allow the CDC’s moratorium to stay in effect for its remaining month, protecting hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of tenants. The brief cited research showing the harms of eviction on health, which include increased risk of childhood asthma and lead poisoning, suicide, and worse birth outcomes. The brief also cites research showing how eviction moratoriums effectively slowed the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S.

The brief describes how COVID-19 arrived in the United States as millions of Americans were at risk of eviction. That risk was not spread evenly before the pandemic. Due to the economic slowdown, almost 20 million Americans are now at risk of eviction, according to the U.S. Census. Poorer families, especially poorer households led by women of color, are at the highest risk of eviction, research shows. The brief cited this research to show how lifting the eviction moratorium would unfairly harm communities that have seen the highest rates of COVID-19 infection and mortality.

Benfer and Pottenger began working with Walker-Wells and almost a dozen other students in the Housing Clinic to file in support of the CDC moratorium beginning in September 2020. Almost as soon as the moratorium was announced that month, landlords began challenging it in court.

This fall, Benfer, Pottenger, and Walker-Wells worked closely to draft a brief in four of the federal district court cases involving the moratorium: Brown v. Azar, Skyworks, LLC v. CDC, KC Tenants v. Byrn, and Chambless Enterprises, LLC v. CDC. In the spring, they filed in two separate Fifth Circuit appellate cases before filing in the Supreme Court.

Most students in the Housing Clinic’s eviction track provided critical help in at least one of the cases. Yale Law students Raymond Fang ’23, Samarth Gupta ’23, Adam Kinkley ’21, Salvatore Minopoli ’21, Patrick Monaghan ’22, Jacqui Oesterblad ’22, Areeb Siddiqui ’23, Logan Wren ’21, and Wake Forest School of Law student Emilia Todd provided research, writing, and editing throughout the year. Yale Housing Clinic student Leah Kazar ’23 rushed to the Supreme Court to hand-deliver a paper copy of the brief.

The amici include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, Children’s Healthwatch, GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality, the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, the National Hispanic Medical Association, the National Medical Association, the North Carolina Pediatric Society, and individual experts Emily A. Benfer, Kim M. Blankenship, Katherine L. Chen, Matthew Desmond, Gregg Gonsalves, Peter Hepburn, Danya E. Keene, Kathryn M. Leifheit, Michael Z. Levy, Sabriya A. Linton, Wendy Parmet, Craig E. Pollack, Julia Raifman, and David Vlahov.

Four of the amici have Yale connections. Benfer was a Distinguished Visiting Scholar and Senior Fellow at Yale Law School Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy in 2017–2018. Gonsalves (one of two amici to win a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant”) is an Associate Professor at the Yale School of Nursing with a joint appointment at Yale Law School, where he co-directs the Global Health Justice Partnership. Keene is an Associate Professor at the Yale School of Public Health. Vlahov is a Professor of Nursing and Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases at the School of Nursing.

Students in Yale Law School’s Housing Clinic focus on one of three tracks: foreclosures, evictions, or fair housing policy. Housing Clinic students study ethics and policy issues, including the role discrimination has played in the government’s and industry’s treatment of homeowners and renters. They also attend skills-training sessions and sessions of the court handling cases in their respective tracks. Working through the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization, Housing Clinic students represent clients and handle cases seeking affirmative relief. Student teams also tackle legislative remedies arising from the clinic’s clients’ cases.