Less than a week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended the national mask mandate on planes and other public transportation through May 3, a federal judge in Florida has struck it down.
In her ruling Monday, Federal District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in St. Petersburg, Florida, said that the mandate “exceeds the CDC’s statutory authority and violates the procedures required for agency rule making under the APA,” referring to the Administrative Procedure Act, which was intended to ensure that the executive branch follows proper protocols before it changes policies and issue regulations, the New York Times reports.
Mizelle—a 35-year-old former law clerk for Clarence Thomas who was nominated for her seat by Donald Trump and confirmed by Senate Republicans 49-41 after Trump lost the 2020 election—added, “Accordingly, the court vacates the mandate and remands it to the CDC.”
The CDC had relied on 1944’s Public Health Service Act to impose the mandate, but the government’s contention that it put the mask requirement in place for the purpose of “sanitation” failed to impress Mizelle, who wrote, “Wearing a mask cleans nothing. At most, it traps virus droplets. But it neither ‘sanitizes’ the person wearing the mask nor ‘sanitizes’ the conveyance,” according to the Washington Post.
In siding with the plaintiffs—a legal group known as Health Freedom Defense Fund, as well as frustrated airline passengers—Mizelle cited three key issues: that the CDC had exceeded its legal authority, improperly avoided notice and comment procedures, and that its mandate was “arbitrary and capricious.”
What comes next is unclear. The Justice Department could appeal the ruling and ask Mizelle or an appeals court to stay the order, allowing the CDC to continue to enforce the mandate while the issue makes its way through the courts.
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