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General News    H3'ed 9/16/21

Tomgram: Liz Theoharis, Making Sense of the Eviction Crisis

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This article originally appeared at www.tomdispatch.com="">click here.

The "Supreme" Court? Honestly, we may have to change its name. From abortions to evictions, it could soon lay this country low. So maybe it should be known as the SDC, or Supremely Dangerous Court? Or maybe the CTEIA, the Court That Ends It All? Or perhaps just the SPC, or SubPrime Court? You certainly know we're in a far less courtly world when that none-too-judicious body puts its stamp of approval on vigilante justice vis-a-vis women's bodies and hardly hesitates to throw untold numbers of Americans into the street at the very moment when the Delta strain of Covid-19 is running wild. In other words, it's helping to make this country (and its hospitals) into a hell on Earth. In case you hadn't noticed, for instance, the official count of pandemically dead Americans the real number is undoubtedly far higher recently broke the 660,000 mark and will soon pass the estimated 675,000 American dead from the 1918-1920 "Spanish" flu pandemic.

So, congratulations to that "Supreme" Court, or perhaps that SPC (Supremely Pandemic Court). After all, as a recent study by MIT researchers showed, ending an eviction moratorium, as that court recently did, is essentially guaranteed to increase the spread of the Delta strain of the pandemic, already multiplying rapidly, especially in less vaccinated parts of the country. In fact, according to that study, "on average, when a state lifted its moratorium and let evictions resume, the hazard of contracting Covid-19 was 1.39 times greater after five weeks and 1.83 times greater after 12 weeks, rather than if the moratorium had continued."

So, in the space of just weeks, that very court ensured that more unwanted children would enter the world and more wanted ones would depart it. How grim our all-American world is these days, as TomDispatch regular Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign and author of the soon-to-be-published book We Cry Justice, suggests in her usual striking fashion today. Too bad she can't get the attention of our SUC, or Supremely Uninterested Court. Tom

The Land of the Free, Where So Many of the Brave Are Homeless
Resisting Evictions Amid a Pandemic

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Over the past weeks, multiple crises have merged: a crisis of democracy with the most significant attack on voting rights since Reconstruction; a climate crisis with lives and livelihoods upended in the Gulf Coast and the Northeast by extreme weather events and in the West by a stunning fire season; and an economic crisis in which millions are being cut off from Pandemic Unemployment Insurance, even as August job gains proved underwhelming. There's also a crisis taking place in state legislatures with an ongoing attack on women's autonomy over our own bodies. The Supreme Court let a law go into effect that makes abortions nearly impossible in Texas and turns its enforcement over to vigilantes. And then, of course, there's the looming eviction crisis that could precipitate the worst housing and homelessness disaster in American history.

Indeed, the Supreme Court's ruling on the Texas abortion ban was hardly its only horrific decision this summer. Its willingness to end a moratorium on evictions instantly put hundreds of thousands of people at risk of eviction, with tens of millions more in danger in the weeks to come. With an unequal economic recovery, surging Covid-19 cases (thanks to the highly infectious Delta variant), and poor and homeless people disproportionately suffering the effects of fires and floods, this decision could truly prove catastrophic. Nor is it the only one likely to impact poor and low-income communities of color drastically. That stacked court, the Trump court (if you want to think of it that way), is offering a remarkably vivid demonstration of just how connected voting rights, women's rights, immigrant rights, and poverty really are.

President Biden critiqued the Supreme Court recently for its ruling on the Texas abortion case. "For the majority to do this without a hearing, without the benefit of an opinion from a court below, and without due consideration of the issues," he said, "insults the rule of law and the rights of all Americans to seek redress from our courts." And as continued injustices, especially from that court's "shadow docket," have come to light, former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, now head of the American Constitution Society, tweeted, "SCOTUS's increasing use of the shadow docket to issue massive legal decisions is yet another reason why Supreme Court reform needs to be taken seriously."

"In reality, the Supreme Court is an institution of minority rule. According to Ari Berman, a voting-rights expert and journalist who has tracked that court for years, "A majority of conservative Supreme Court justices were appointed by GOP presidents who initially lost the popular vote and confirmed by senators representing a minority of the population." As he's also pointed out, "No one has benefited more from minority rule and done more to ensure it than Mitch McConnell."

After all, McConnell blocked President Obama's choice for the Supreme Court on the flimsy pretext that it was too close to an election, only to ram through Donald Trump's pick just eight days before the 2020 election when 65 million votes had already been cast. What this amounts to is simple enough: a Supreme Court that doesn't represent the opinions or values of the majority of Americans.

As a biblical scholar and Christian pastor, I find the words of the Bible particularly relevant in a moment like this. Proverbs 22 reads, "Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case."

In these ever-less United States, of course, it's not only the Supreme Court that doesn't respect the rights of the poor. Consider housing and the lower courts. In recent studies of landlord-tenant court cases in states across the country, landlords typically won 95% of eviction cases in Oklahoma and Hawaii and, in 2017, 99.7% percent of those in Kansas City. According to the ACLU, """Eviction proceedings historically have been unfair and imbalanced. In the courts, the odds are stacked against tenants: 90% of landlords are represented by legal counsel in evictions, but fewer than 10% of tenants have representation."

Eviction in a Pandemic

Recently, as Ivana Saric pointed out at Axios, a new report from Goldman Sachs predicted significant hardship because of the way the Supreme Court upended the moratorium on evictions. As she wrote, "Roughly 2.5 million to 3.5 million American households are behind on their rents" They owe landlords between $12 billion and $17 billion" Evictions are likely to be 'particularly pronounced in the cities hardest hit' by Covid-19 because they have stronger apartment rental markets."

Even more dire, reports CNBC, "The coronavirus pandemic could result in some 28 million Americans being evicted" By comparison, 10 million people lost their homes in the Great Recession." These predictions come, in part, from Emily Benfer, the chair of the American Bar Association's Task Force Committee on Eviction and co-creator with the Eviction Lab at Princeton University of the Covid-19 Housing Policy Scorecard. As she points out, "We have never seen this extent of eviction in such a truncated amount of time in our history."

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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