Florida Judge Declares CDC’s Federal Travel Mask Mandate ‘Unlawful’ and Vacates It

Florida’s judge dismissed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) transportation mandate mask, calling it an “unlawful expansion” of federal power.

U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle was appointed under the Trump administration. She stated that “our system doesn’t permit agencies to act illegally even in pursuits of desirable ends.”

Mizelle’s ruling immediately stops the mandate. But, the government may ask the court for a stay of the judgment to allow it to be appealed. Under that scenario, the travel mandate—which applies to airplanes, trains, buses, and subway systems—could return.

It’s unclear how long the CDC intends to maintain the mandate in either situation. It was originally scheduled to expire today. But, the agency extended it two more weeks. The mask is not necessary for major airlines, as the airline’s air quality is very filtered.

In a letter addressed to the Biden administration, the chief executives of major airlines wrote that it was absurd that passengers are required to use masks while flying, but that they are permitted to gather in crowds at schools, restaurants and sporting events with no masks.

It’s not hard to see why they have an argument. It’s difficult to imagine that unmasked travelers and commuters are at significantly greater risk of catching COVID-19 than unmasked restaurant and gym customers: There’s much less talking and heavy breathing on an airplane than there is at a bar—but the latter has practically no masking requirements at this point in the pandemic. Most people can now decide what level of risk they are willing to take with COVID-19, and then act accordingly.

Judge Mizelle criticized CDC for short-cuts and going beyond its statutory authority. Under the law—specifically, a federal law known as the Administrative Procedures Act—the agency is required to submit new policies for outside review and comment. The CDC refused to comply with the requirement, arguing that delays in implementing it would cause serious health problems. The agency maintained, however, that this mandate wasn’t a new rule, but rather a clarification to previous guidance regarding “sanitation.”

Mizelle was unpersuaded, however, that the Public Health Service Act of 1944—the law the CDC cited as giving the agency the power to take such actions—considered disease prevention to be a form of sanitation.

Mizelle said, “Wearing masks cleans nothing.” “At most, it traps virus droplets. However, it does not’sanitize the person who wears the mask’ nor the conveyance. Because the CDC required mask wearing as a measure to keep something clean—explaining that it limits the spread of COVID-19 through prevention, but never contending that it actively destroys or removes it—the Mask Mandate falls outside of [applicable law].”

Mizelle stated that she does not believe Congress has delegated this power to the CDC in regards to masks. However, she doubts that Congress delegated such power to the CDC when it comes to individuals travelling. Within The U.S.

She stated that the power to detain or conditionally release an individual from a foreign nation is usually limited to those who are entering the United States.

The lawsuit was brought by two Florida residents who argued that being required to wear masks on airplanes aggravated their anxiety—a condition that is not exempted from forced masking under the mandate. The Health Freedom Defense Fund is representing them.