Administration

DOJ to appeal mask ruling if CDC deems mandate necessary for public health

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday said it would appeal a ruling nullifying the federal mandate for masks on planes and other public transit if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determines that a “mandatory order remains necessary for the public’s health.”

“The Department continues to believe that the order requiring masking in the transportation corridor is a valid exercise of the authority Congress has given CDC to protect the public health,” DOJ spokesman Anthony Coley said in a statement Tuesday evening. “That is an important authority the Department will continue to work to preserve.”

“If CDC concludes that a mandatory order remains necessary for the public’s health after that assessment, the Department of Justice will appeal the district court’s decision,” Coley said.

It could be days or weeks before the CDC issues an assessment and the Justice Department makes a final decision on appealing the ruling, which came on Monday and resulted in confusion and an abrupt end to masking on domestic flights and other public modes of transportation.  

The CDC extended the mask order for travel earlier this month through May 3 so that the agency could assess the impact of a recent rise in COVID-19 cases in parts of the country. That extension was set to take effect beginning Tuesday. 

But a Trump-appointed federal judge in Florida struck down the CDC mandate, arguing that the agency exceeded its statutory authority.  

The Transportation Security Administration stopped enforcing the mandate hours later.

Because the Justice Department is not immediately seeking a stay of the ruling in Florida, the mandate will continue to go unenforced.  

The White House has urged Americans to continue to wear masks on public transportation, though President Biden said earlier Tuesday it is ultimately up to individuals to decide to wear masks on planes.

The White House had been careful to leave any decision on litigation up to the Justice Department. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One earlier Tuesday that the department was still weighing its options.  

“We’ve said from the start that our COVID response should be guided by the science and data and by experts,” Psaki said.  

The decision to appeal would nevertheless be a politically charged one given the political polarization surrounding mask use and the general pandemic fatigue setting in across the country.  

Major domestic airlines and Amtrak stopped requiring mask use following the ruling, as did ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft. Some major airports have also made masks optional.  

 

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