A U.S. judge in Florida on Monday ruled that a mask mandate on public transportation is unlawful, overturning a Biden administration effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Last week, U.S. health officials extended by 15 days the mandate requiring travelers to wear masks on airplanes, trains, and in taxis, ride-share vehicles, and transit hubs, saying they needed time to assess the impact of a recent rise in COVID-19 cases.
Tampa-based U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, who was nominated by President Donald Trump in 2020, also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention improperly failed to justify its decision and did not follow proper rulemaking.
In her 59-page ruling, Mizelle said the only remedy was to vacate the rule entirely because it would be impossible to end it for the limited group of people who objected to it in the lawsuit.
The judge said “a limited remedy would be no remedy at all” and that the courts have full authority to make a decision such as this — even if the goals of the CDC in fighting the virus are laudable.
“Because our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends, the court declares unlawful and vacates the mask mandate,” she wrote.
The Justice Department declined to comment Monday when asked if the government planned to appeal the ruling.
The Transportation Security Administration and Federal Aviation Administration declined to comment. The White House and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did not immediately comment.
There have been a series of violent incidents on aircraft that have mainly been attributed to disputes over the mask-wearing requirements.
The lawsuit was filed in July 2021 by two plaintiffs and the Health Freedom Defense Fund, described in the judge's order as a nonprofit group that “opposes laws and regulations that force individuals to submit to the administration of medical products, procedures and devices against their will.”
The CDC first issued a public health order requiring masks in interstate transportation in February 2021. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued a security directive to enforce the CDC order.
The judge sent the issue back to the CDC. It was not immediately clear if the judge's order would take immediate effect.
This report contains material from Reuters and The Associated Press.
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