Judge strikes down CDC mask mandate for travel

A federal judge in Florida on Monday struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) mask mandate for travel on planes, trains and buses. 

Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, an appointee of former President Trump, wrote that the CDC exceeded its statutory authority with the order. 

Mizelle’s ruling comes down in part to the definition of the word “sanitation” in the law.

She wrote that while the government argued for a broader definition of the word, including preventing disease, she uses a narrower definition “limited to cleaning measures.”

“Wearing a mask cleans nothing,” she wrote.  

Mizelle added that the CDC had also failed to follow the rulemaking processes laid out in law and provide a sufficient justification for its mandate. 

The CDC had recently extended the order for 15 days, through May 3, amid some discussion of whether to end it. But the agency decided more time was needed to monitor an uptick in cases from the BA.2 subvariant of omicron.

An administration official said Monday afternoon that the ruling “means CDC’s public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time,” and that the TSA would cease enforcing it. 

“CDC recommends that people continue to wear masks in indoor public transportation settings,” the official added, while noting the administration is “assessing potential next steps.” 

The move adds to the legal fights over pandemic mitigation measures from the Biden administration. The White House’s vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers previously suffered defeat in the courts. 

Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, tweeted that airports and travel should be at the core of the CDC’s legal authority to prevent the spread of disease.

“This is both a big deal and a truly preposterous (nationwide) injunction,” he wrote of the order. “The CDC’s statutory authority is specifically directed at preventing the spread of communicable diseases across state lines. Where else is such spread more likely to occur than transport hubs like airports?”

The ruling can be appealed, but there could be confusion in the short term. 

The travel mask mandate was one of the few remaining mask orders, as states and localities across the country have largely lifted mask mandates for the general public. Philadelphia is a rare exception in reinstating a more general mask mandate in recent days due to the uptick in cases. 

Updated at 6:10 p.m.

Tags CDC Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Federal Court mask mandates Pandemic travel mask mandate

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