The Biden administration is calling on law firms and law schools to help fight evictions following a U.S. Supreme Court decision last week to remove protections created by the federal government in response to the pandemic.
Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday urged members of the legal community to take immediate action to help address the “looming housing and eviction crisis,” according to a letter obtained by Bloomberg Law.
Last week, a divided Supreme Court lifted the administration’s moratorium on evictions, which had provided protection for millions who have fallen behind on their rent during the coronavirus pandemic. The court said that U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lacked the authority to impose the moratorium, which the justices said was causing landlords “irreparable harm.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that so far more 40 major law school deans have committed their students and law clinics to the endeavor, including those at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, Howard University, UCLA Legal Services Corp, as well as the American Bar Association and the National Housing Law Project.
“As federal and local eviction moratoriums expire around the country, eviction filings are expected to spike to roughly double their pre-pandemic levels,” Garland wrote. He said that more than 6 million American households are behind on rent, and 3 million of those households believe they may be evicted in the next two months.
Landlords across the country are owed as much as $17 billion from as many as 3.5 million households that are behind on rent, according to analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Congress authorized nearly $47 billion in rental relief to compensate landlords for lost payments, but state and local authorities have been slow to get those funds delivered.
“The legal profession is well positioned to provide support for tenants, landlords, and courts during this crisis,” Garland said. “Promoting access to justice to ensure that our justice system delivers outcomes that are fair and accessible to all, irrespective of wealth or status, is one of the highest ideals of the legal profession,” he added.
The deans of Georgetown Law School Bill Treanor and New York University School of Law Trevor Morrison have been coordinating an effort by law schools to assist with this effort.
The Association of Pro Bono Counsel and Law Firm Anti-Racism Alliance are set to hold a nationwide training for lawyers on Thursday. The Alliance, an initiative launched in July 2020 in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, now boasts nearly 300 law firm members and is headed by lawyers at Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom.
The organizations released a joint statement Monday, urging firms to help fight evictions and assist low-income tenants in obtaining money the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
“Together, we will work to ensure equitable access to justice, especially among marginalized communities of color and other vulnerable people who have suffered devastating hardship throughout the pandemic and who are at heightened risk of harm today,” the groups said.
—With assistance from Courtney Rozen