The Justice Department has filed an appeal seeking to overturn a judge’s order that rescinded the federal mask mandate on planes and trains and in travel hubs after the administration’s top public health officials said the mandate was still necessary, officials announced Wednesday.
The decision came two days after Federal District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in St. Petersburg, Florida struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s nationwide mask requirement for passengers on planes and other public transportation through May 3. Shortly after, the CDC asked the Justice Department to appeal the order.
A notice of appeal was filed in federal court in Tampa, the Associated Press reports.
“It is CDC’s continuing assessment that at this time an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health,” the agency said in a statement Wednesday. “CDC will continue to monitor public health conditions to determine whether such an order remains necessary. CDC believes this is a lawful order, well within CDC’s legal authority to protect public health.”
Last week, the CDC extended the mask mandate for an extra two weeks, saying it needed more time to assess a recent increase in cases.
It is not clear if the Biden administration will ask the appeals court to approve an emergency stay to immediately keep the mask order on public transit intact, AP reports. An emergency stay of the lower court’s ruling could potentially be risky: if the order striking down the mandate is upheld, that could permanently weaken the CDC’s authority, the New York Times reports. On the other hand, if the department wins the case, there will likely be backlash among Americans who felt liberated by the removal of the mask requirement.
Most airlines and airports, public transit systems, as well as ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft dropped their mask-wearing requirements shortly after Mizelle’s ruling. Some pilots made the announcement of the abrupt change mid-flight, prompting celebration among some passengers, but anxiety for others, the New York Times reports.
Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said Wednesday night that the department was filing the appeal “in light of today’s assessment by the CDC that an order requiring masking in the transportation corridor remains necessary to protect the public health,” AP reports.
In the wake of the Monday ruling, Biden’s administration has provided mixed messages, AP reports. Officials said Americans should heed the CDC’s guidance on masks even if it was no longer a requirement, but Biden suggested they have more flexibility while using public transit.
“That’s up to them,” Biden said during a Tuesday visit to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. However, the White House still requires face coverings for those traveling with him on Air Force One, citing guidance from the CDC.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that Biden is still encouraging Americans to wear masks.
“People are not legally bound to wear masks,” she said after the court order. “So, it is a point in time where it is up to people—it is their choice, in that regard.”
A new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that most Americans are in favor of wearing masks on planes. Researchers reported that 56 percent of Americans favor requiring masks on planes and other transportation, while 24 percent are opposed, and 20 percent are neutral, ABC7 reports.
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