Federal judge strikes down CDC mask mandate for travel

·2 min read
Ted S. Warren, File/AP Photo

A federal judge in Florida on Monday struck down the CDC's requirement that masks must be worn on planes and trains, ruling that the agency overstepped its statutory authority.

Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, a U.S. District Judge in the Middle District of Florida and a Donald Trump appointee, ruled in favor of the Health Freedom Defense Fund's lawsuit against the federal government that was initiated in July 2021.

"It is indisputable that the public has a strong interest in combating the spread of Covid-19," Mizelle wrote. "In pursuit of that end, the CDC issued the mask mandate. But the mandate exceeded the CDC statutory authority, improperly invoked the good clause exemption to notice and comment rulemaking and failed to adequately explain its decisions. Because our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in the pursuit of desirable ends, the court declares unlawful and vacates the mask mandate."

Last week, the CDC extended the mask mandate for planes, trains and other forms of public transportation until May 3. In the face of increasing opposition from the airline industry as well as Republicans and some Democrats in Congress to continuing the travel mask mandate even as other parts of the country shed their mask requirements, White House officials have repeatedly stressed that any further extension of the mask mandate would be made by the CDC.

Last month, officials said the mandate needed another extension for the CDC to “work with government agencies to help inform a revised policy framework for when, and under what circumstances, masks should be required in the public transportation corridor.” CDC spokesperson Caitlin Shockey said last week that the agency "continues to monitor the spread of the Omicron variant, especially the BA.2 subvariant that now makes up more than 85 percent of U.S. cases." Given the increase week to week, and to better assess its effect "on severe disease, including hospitalizations and deaths, and health care system capacity, the CDC order will remain in place at this time."

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said Monday, minutes before the ruling was announced, that he wants to see mask mandates ended immediately.

"We're all hoping coming May 3 the mandate expires and the government puts it on individuals," Bastian said at a Washington Post Live event. "In other sectors of the economy, there are no masks. It just doesn't make sense."