CDC mask mandate for travelers no longer in effect following judge’s ruling, official says

U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle said the warrant was illegal because it exceeded the statutory authority of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and because its implementation violated administrative law.

“Agencies are reviewing the decision and evaluating potential next steps,” the Biden administration official said Monday evening. “In the meantime, today’s court ruling means that the CDC’s public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time. Therefore, the TSA will not be enforcing its security guidelines and its emergency amendment requiring the use of masks on public transportation and transportation hubs at this time. The CDC recommends that people continue to wear masks on indoor public transportation.”

Just last week, the CDC extended that mask mandate through May 3. The masking requirement applied to planes, trains and other forms of public transport.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday afternoon that it was a “disappointing” decision, and the Justice Department will make any decision on a legal response.

Confusion following the decision

In the immediate wake of Mizelle’s decision, Psaki told reporters that the White House was not trying to “cause passengers uncertainty” by not providing an immediate response, but added that the administration continues to recommend that airline passengers continue to wear masks.

“So we would say to everyone sitting there – we recommend that you wear masks on the plane and … as soon as we can provide an update from here, hopefully soon, we will provide it to you everyone,” she said.

Following the decision, several US airlines – Delta, United and Southwest among them – said masks are now optional on their planes. In a statement, Alaska Airlines said passengers whose behavior has been “particularly egregious” over the past two years in opposing the mandate will remain barred from flying on the airline, “even after the policy is reversed. of the mask”.

Amtrak and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates the DC Metro, also announced they will no longer require masks for passengers and employees, although state-owned and operated NJ Transit State, and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority will maintain their requirements.

A Biden administration official familiar with the White House decision previously told CNN the goal of the extension was to gather more information and understand the BA.2 variant of the coronavirus. Covid-19 cases in the United States are on the rise, leading universities and the city of Philadelphia to reenforce indoor mask mandates.

US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said last week that part of the reason for the extension of the transport mask mandate was due to the increase in Covid-19 cases and the parameters created by the trips.

“We bring a lot of people together in a closed setting for an extended period of time, and not everyone has the option of not traveling,” Murthy said on SiriusXM’s Doctor Radio Reports, giving examples such as traveling on an airplane. to see a sick mother or a business trip to keep a job. “Because that’s not necessarily an optional setting for people and because, again, people are together for a long time, that’s why the CDC leaned in to be careful there and has recommended that people continue to wear these masks.”

Judge compares enforcement to ‘detention and quarantine’

The first part of the judge’s 59-page ruling dealt with the meaning of the word “sanitation,” as it functions in the 1944 law that gives the federal government power – in its efforts to control communicable diseases – to issue regulations regarding “sanitation.”

Mizelle concluded that the use of the word in the law was limited to “measures that clean something up”.

Justice Kathryn Kimball Mizelle being sworn in by Justice Clarence Thomas, This photo was tweeted by Laura Rosenbury, Dean of the University of Florida's Levin College of Law, in October 2021.

“Wearing a mask cleans nothing,” she wrote. “At most, it traps virus droplets. But it does not ‘disinfect’ the person wearing the mask or ‘disinfect’ the means of transport.”

She wrote that the mandate did not fall under the law because “the CDC required the wearing of a mask as a measure to keep something clean – explaining that it limits the spread of COVID-19 by prevention, but does not never pretending that he is actively destroying or suppressing it.”

Mizelle suggested that the government’s implementation of the mandate – in which non-compliant travelers are “forcibly removed from their plane seats, denied boarding at the bus steps and turned away at the station gates ” – was akin to “detention and quarantine”, which is not envisaged in the article of the law in question, she said.

“As a result, the Mask Mandate is best understood not as a cleanup, but as an exercise of the CDC’s power to conditionally release individuals to travel despite fears that they may be spreading a communicable disease (and to detain or to partially quarantine those who refuse),” she wrote. “But the power of parole and detention is generally limited to people entering the United States from a foreign country.”

She added that the warrant also did not correspond to a section of the law that would authorize the detention of a traveler if they were, after examination, found to be infected.

“The Mask Mandate does not comply with any of these subsections,” the judge said. “It applies to all travelers regardless of their origins or destinations and does not sort according to their state of health.”

Mizelle added that, in addition, the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which dictates procedures the federal government must follow when implementing certain agency policies.

The Biden administration erred in failing to seek public notice and comment on the policy, she wrote. She also ruled that the mandate violated APA prohibitions on “arbitrary” and “capricious” agency actions because the CDC failed to adequately explain its reasoning for implementing the policy.

Mizelle was appointed to the Federal Court in late 2020 by then-President Donald Trump.

His confirmation in the days following the 2020 election was controversial and evenly opposed by Democrats. A former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Mizelle was 33 at the time of her confirmation. She had been classified as “unqualified” by the American Bar Association for “the short time she actually practiced law and her lack of significant trial experience.”

Previous trials had failed

Other lawsuits that have been filed against the warrant — and the directive to enforce it by the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration — have failed to block it.

According to a Justice Department filing submitted last week in a separate lawsuit against the Texas warrant, “many others have sought urgent injunction to CDC or TSA orders requiring masks while traveling. commercial airlines”.
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“The Supreme Court has denied this remedy three times, as have all appellate courts to consider the matter – that is, the Fourth, Eighth, Eleventh, and DC Circuits – as well as the United States District Court of Middle District of Florida,” the Justice Department said in the case, referring to an earlier lawsuit filed in the Middle District of Florida. “No court has granted such relief, and not a single judge or judge has noted disagreement with any of these orders.”

Unlike those other cases where judges weighed emergency or preliminary orders, Mizelle considered the legality of the warrant on the merits.

The union of air hostesses calls for “calm”

Following the decision, the Association of Flight Attendants called for “calm and consistency at airports and on planes”.

“We urge a focus on clear communication so that flight attendants and other frontline workers are not subjected to more violence created by uncertainty and confusion,” said the union, which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants, in a press release.

Republicans applauded the decision, with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis post on Twitter that it was “awesome to see a federal judge in Florida following the law and dismissing the Biden mask-carrying warrant.”
Senator Chuck Grassley, a senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said on Twitter that the decision showed why his work on Trump’s judicial nominations was “so important to protect [individual] freedom” and “restrict [government] to go too far.”
Democratic Senator Ed Markey, meanwhile, tweeted that a “Trump-appointed judge is hampering our response to the pandemic and putting the most vulnerable at risk.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Dave Alsup, Chandelis Duster, Maegan Vazquez, Pete Muntean and Shawna Mizelle contributed to this report.