More than 15 million people in 6.5 million U.S. households are currently behind on rental payments
(Adds Biden comment, updates CDC figures)
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, Aug 5 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge early on Thursday ordered the Biden administration to quickly respond to a legal challenge to a new eviction moratorium put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich ordered the Justice Department to respond by 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT) on Friday. The Alabama Association of Realtors and others said in an emergency filing late on Wednesday that the CDC had issued the new order "for nakedly political reasons - to ease the political pressure, shift the blame to the courts for ending the moratorium, and use litigation delays to achieve a policy objective."
U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters on Thursday he believed the moratorium was legal and said he had not instructed CDC to issue the order. He said he could not guarantee the courts would not rule against the moratorium.
More than 15 million people in 6.5 million U.S. households are currently behind on rental payments, according to a study by the Aspen Institute and the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. They collectively owe more than $20 billion to landlords.
The groups won a ruling from Friedrich in May declaring that the CDC's eviction ban unlawful, but an appeals court blocked an effort to enforce the decision.
In June, a divided Supreme Court agreed to let the CDC moratorium remain in effect after the agency announced it would allow the ban to expire on July 31.
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued a concurring opinion saying in his view extending the CDC moratorium past July 31 would need "clear and specific congressional authorization (via new legislation)."
After being asked again by Biden to reconsider and under pressure from Democrats in Congress, the CDC reversed course on Tuesday and issued a slightly narrower eviction ban, replacing the nationwide moratorium that expired Saturday at midnight after Congress failed to approve an extension.
The new 60-day ban protects millions of renters from eviction and covers counties with substantial or high COVID-19 transmission rates. The ban currently applies to 85% of U.S. counties and more than 90% of the population. (Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Matthew Lewis)