The CDC vs. the Constitution
Since last summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have used an obscure federal regulation to impose a nationwide moratorium on a huge chunk of residential evictions. This is constitutionally dubious, to say the least. But the CDC just extended it through June.
The moratorium’s proponents argue that federal authority over interstate commerce permits this move. But the Interstate Commerce Clause isn’t a plenary power over all areas of life simply because everything, at a certain point, can be linked to commercial activity. The Tenth Amendment makes clear that all powers not expressly delegated to the federal government are left to the states. Still, the Commerce Clause has been used to justify a myriad of regulations that involve no commerce “among the several states,” and in some cases no “commerce” at all. Notable examples include prohibiting cannabis grown in your backyard for personal medical use, or stopping the control of a rodent population that has no commercial value and lives only in southwest Utah.
Courts since the 1930s have often validated federal overreach under cover of the Commerce Clause. But in United States v. Lopez (1995), the U.S. Supreme Court held that gun-free school zones had nothing to do with interstate commerce. The Clause, it cautioned, does not invite a court to “pile inference upon inference in a manner that would…convert congressional authority…to a general police power of the sort retained by the states.”
At the time, Lopez seemed to be a game-changer. But officials have found creative new ways to keep an impossibly broad Commerce Clause alive, and the Court has sometimes approved such schemes, as in the medical marijuana case Raich v. Gonzalez (2005). But in NFIB v. Sebelius (20
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