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.
It’s unclear how quickly the decision will be implemented at airports or train stations across the country, or whether the Justice Department will seek an order reversing the decision and file an appeal.
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.
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.”
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday afternoon that it was a “disappointing” decision and that the Department of Homeland Security and the CDC are reviewing the decision. The Justice Department will make all decisions regarding a legal response, Psaki added.
PSAKI told reporters 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.
Underlying the uncertainty, Delta issued a statement saying it was awaiting word from the Transportation Security Administration: “As we have been, Delta will continue to comply with the TSA’s mask security directive until further notice. unless she is notified otherwise by the TSA.”
Judge compares enforcement to ‘detention and quarantine’
Mizelle concluded that the use of the word in the law was limited to “measures that clean something up”.
“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.
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.
“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”
With the ramifications of the decision not immediately clear, 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.
This story has been updated with additional details.
CNN’s Chandelis Duster, Maegan Vazquez and Pete Muntean contributed to this report.