Washington Supreme Court Divided Over Inslee’s COVID-19 Eviction Moratorium


Washington Supreme Court

Washington Supreme Court recent 5-4 judgment on the COVID-19 eviction moratorium instituted by Governor Jay Inslee has prompted extensive discussion and examination of the law. This judgement has far-reaching consequences for tenants, landlords, and the state as a whole in a state hit hard by the pandemic. In this article, we’ll take a look at the major points of the ruling, the arguments made on both sides, and the larger ramifications for the use of emergency powers in the future.

The Ruling

The Supreme Court Washington upheld Governor Inslee’s use of an emergency clause in the state constitution to institute an eviction moratorium, albeit in a 4-3 vote. The majority of the court found that the governor was within his legal right to impose the freeze from March 2020 to June 2021. During this time, businesses, workers, government agencies, and property owners all experienced tremendous financial hardships as a result of the pandemic.

Justification for the Moratorium

Chief Justice Steven Gonzalez wrote the majority opinion, which emphasized the importance of the ban at a time when Washington had one of the highest transmission rates of COVID-19 in the country. According to the report, the spread of the epidemic would have been hampered by the widespread use of eviction notices, which would have resulted in overcrowded courtrooms, homeless shelters, and private residences. The court ruled that the moratorium should remain in place to preserve lives and stop the spread of COVID-19.

Dissenting Opinion

Dissenting judges, led by Justice Charles Johnson, contended that Governor Inslee’s proclamations improperly prevented landlords from evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent, going beyond the scope of the governor’s statutory authority. They said landlords were harmed financially and legally because of delays in receiving rent and a lack of access to the courts for enforcing evictions.

Impact on Landlords and Tenants

Landlords were limited by the eviction moratorium, as they could not treat unpaid rent as a legally binding obligation without first providing a fair repayment plan. Evictions were also restricted to situations when the tenant posed a “imminent and serious threat,” the landlord intended to move in, or the property was being sold. Landlords were not released from their responsibility to collect rent, but tenants’ payments were delayed, and eviction proceedings might be initiated.

Public Health Considerations

According to the majority decision, up to 790,000 people in Washington could have been forced to leave their homes if the ban hadn’t been put in place. This may have resulted in an additional 59,000 cases of COVID-19 and 621 deaths. This highlights the court’s view that the moratorium was necessary for public health.

Legal Implications

There are serious legal problems about the scope of a governor’s emergency powers that are brought up by the judgement. It establishes the principle that emergency measures can be implemented to ensure the safety of the general population during times of crisis. The court’s ruling shows that questions of emergency powers will remain of public interest and may reappear in future crises, even though the moratorium has ended and the case should be moot.

Continuing Public Interest

The majority decision stressed that these cases raise issues of “continuing and substantial public interest.” The public is interested in the authority of the governor under emergency statutes, especially while the world continues to deal with the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The use of emergency powers is expected to be necessary in the future.


The Washington Supreme Court of Washington’s ruling on the COVID-19 eviction moratorium issued by Governor Inslee highlights the interplay between complicated legal and public health concerns that arose during the pandemic. The split decision highlights the ongoing discussion regarding the scope of emergency powers and their application to protecting public health. As the globe continues to deal with the pandemic’s aftermath, this ruling is a sobering reminder of the significance of balancing legal power and public welfare when responding to disasters.


What was the key issue in the Washington Supreme Court’s decision regarding Governor Inslee’s eviction moratorium?

The key issue was whether Governor Inslee had acted within his statutory authority when he imposed the eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What was the majority opinion’s rationale for upholding the eviction moratorium?

The majority opinion argued that the moratorium was necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as mass evictions would have forced people into crowded settings, increasing the risk of transmission.

Why did the dissenting justices disagree with the majority’s decision?

The dissenting justices contended that Governor Inslee had exceeded his statutory authority and that landlords faced financial hardship and legal challenges due to the moratorium.

How did the eviction moratorium impact landlords and tenants in Washington?

The moratorium prohibited landlords from treating unpaid rent as an enforceable debt without first offering a reasonable repayment plan. It also limited evictions to specific circumstances, while tenants were still obligated to pay rent, but payments were delayed.

What broader legal implications does this decision have?

The decision sets a precedent that emergency powers can be used to protect public health and safety during a crisis. It also signals that issues related to emergency powers will continue to be of public concern and may arise in future crises.

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