The CDC mask mandate for travel on airplanes and other forms of public transport is over – for now. The rule was declared unlawful by a federal judge in Tampa on Monday afternoon. Later in the day, Biden administration officials said they had yet to decide what course they would take. Unless and until there is an appeal with an injunction, the TSA can no longer enforce masking rules. Major carriers including United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have already announced the termination of mask requirements on their flights. However, Americans traveling in the next couple of days should check with their airline for the latest.
The CDC had recently extended the mask mandate until May 3. Shortly after the court ruling was announced, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Justice Department would be reviewing the decision and deciding whether to appeal.
CDC ‘Arbitrary and Capricious’
Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle issued the court order killing the mandate. The judge wrote in her 59-page opinion that “irrespective of whether the CDC made a good or accurate decision, it needed to explain why it acted as it did.” She also concluded that as the CDC had failed to explain why it included exemptions – for example for toddlers or those eating – it had not “articulated a ‘rational connection between the facts found and the choices made.'” The court so ruled that the decision was “arbitrary and capricious,” and therefore due to be “set aside.”
The Florida judge said that good intentions were not a sufficient justification for the sweeping mandate. She stated that 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.” Mizelle explained that her order needed to include a nationwide scope because the government couldn’t ensure compliance with a more narrow one.
Health Freedom Defense Fund
The ruling came from a case challenging the CDC mandate brought by the Health Freedom Defense Fund, a non-profit founded in 2020 by a vaccine critic named Leslie Manookian. After the ruling, Ms. Manookian said in a statement, “Unelected officials cannot do whatever they like to our personal freedoms just because they claim good motives and a desirable goal.” The group’s attorney, Brant C. Hadaway, said, “The judge found that the CDC exceeded its statutory authority, and that the CDC’s interpretation of its authority was not entitled to deference.”
Kathryn Kimball Mizelle sits on the bench of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. She was the youngest person chosen by President Donald Trump for a lifetime judicial appointment, at age 33. She has been a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, as well as Judge Katsas of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge Pryor of the Eleventh Circuit. Despite the American Bar Association (ABA) rating Mizelle “Not Qualified” to serve as a federal trial court judge because she lacked any trial experience, she was confirmed to the bench by a 49-41 vote of the U.S. Senate on November 18, 2020.