Just when you thought it was finally time to deep-six your mask or perhaps pummel it Office Space-style, the Department of Justice and Centers for Disease Control came along to make such joy short-lived. After an order by a district court judge in Tampa struck down the federal mask mandate for public transportation, the Department of Justice on Tuesday, April 19, said that it would appeal the ruling, contingent on whether the CDC felt the regulation should remain in place. The next day, the CDC contacted the DOJ saying that it “believes this is a lawful order, well within CDC’s legal authority to protect public health.” As such, the DOJ has officially filed an appeal.
The judge had several reasons for the decision to cancel the travel mask order. Liberty Nation Legal Affairs Editor Scott D. Cosenza, Esq. unpacked the ruling, saying, “the CDC’s implementation of the mask mandate was not legal on several bases, including it exceeded agency authority, was arbitrary and capricious, and was implemented without proper procedure.”
In a brief statement, DOJ spokesman Anthony Coley said the government disagrees with District Court Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle’s decision in the case of Health Freedom Defense Fund Inc., et. al. v. Biden, et. al. “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,” asserted the DOJ. “That is an important authority the Department will continue to work to preserve.”
Whether this is merely a power assertion on behalf of the Biden administration regarding future mask mandates or whether they genuinely believe removing the face-covering requirement on planes and trains is a threat to public health is unclear. Either way, politics are front and center in the DOJ’s surprising challenge of Mizelle’s ruling. From a political perspective, many believed the Tampa judge made things simple for Biden & Company, even going so far as to speculate the DOJ would not challenge her decision.
Real Clear Politics Washington Bureau Chief Carl Cannon theorized, “normally an adverse ruling like that would be immediately appealed. I don’t think the Biden Administration is going to appeal it.” Cannon’s reasoning: “I think they [President Biden’s staff] kind of saw it as a lifeline … they want out of this.” In other words, the district court decision took the political load off the Democrats on an issue of dwindling popularity. All this to say, it shows just how wrong one can be when trying to ascertain what the Democrats might do next.
So where does all this legal mishigas leave the frequent flyer? In a word: confused. Major carriers United, Delta, and Southwest finally ditched the mask requirement, which has been in effect for two years. American Airlines issued a similar statement that read, in part, “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend that people wear a face mask in indoor public transportation settings, but they aren’t required to be worn in airport settings or on your flight unless an individual jurisdiction has these requirements.” But before the ink could dry, up popped the DOJ challenge.
Those flying this week are considering their options. One traveler told Liberty Nation: “I’m not going to wear one in the airport, but I’ll stick a mask in my back pocket just in case.” This might be the best approach considering the federal travel mask mandate game of ping pong continues even at this hour.
In terms of the political fallout, one wonders if the Democrats in the White House stuck their finger in the political winds and concluded ending the travel masks might not be so popular with its base. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll reported 56% of respondents were in favor of requiring masks on public transportation. The results fell predictably along party lines with 80% of Democrats saying they preferred to keep their masks on and 45% of Republicans saying enough is enough.
German novelist Thomas Mann once opined “Everything is politics” and this may be the most cogent of points to be made when considering the ever-changing landscape of federal travel mask mandates. Thus, it should come as no surprise that even though the worldwide pandemic is running out of its most potent variants, the politics of the coronavirus sallies forth.