Federal Judge Overturns Federal Travel Mask Mandate

A federal judge in Florida has voided the national mask mandate that covers public transportation, saying the requirement was beyond the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s authority.

U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, a Trump appointee, turned on the language in a federal law authorizing the CDC to regulate sanitation.

The word “sanitation” implies something is being cleaned, and masks, at best, trap infectious droplets and don’t clean anything, she wrote.

“The Mask Mandate is best understood not as sanitation,” she wrote. “But as an exercise of the CDC’s power to conditionally release individuals to travel despite concerns they may spread a communicable disease.”

That power, Mizelle said, is usually only available when it applies to individuals entering the United States from other countries or individuals traveling between states who are “reasonably believed to be infected. “ But the mask mandate applied on a much broader level.

The judge also found that the CDC improperly bypassed a standard requirement to accept public comments on the rule. She rejected the government’s argument that the public health emergency required quicker action.

The administration had extended the mandate to May 3, even as other federal, state and local pandemic regulations were relaxed. It applied on commercial flights and in airports, as well as in taxis, trains and other public transportation.

The mandate likely contributed to more disruptive behavior aboard commercial flights during the pandemic, as non-compliant passengers argued with other passengers and the flight attendants tasked with enforcing the mandate.

Of more than 1,100 cases of unruly passengers reported by the Federal Aviation Administration so far this year, 744 were related to masking, according to FAA data.

A Biden administration official said Monday evening that the court decision means the CDC’s masking order is “not in effect at this time. Therefore, TSA will not enforce its Security Directives” requiring the face coverings.

“This is obviously a disappointing decision,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, adding that the CDC and White House continue to recommend wearing masks in public transportation settings.

She said the Department of Homeland Security — which includes the Transportation Security Administration — was reviewing the decision. The Justice Department will “make any determinations about litigation,” such as appeal, Psaki said.


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