Judge strikes down national mask mandate for public transit

A federal judge in Florida struck down the national mask mandate covering airplanes and other public transportation as exceeding the authority of US health officials.

Monday’s decision by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed to improperly justify its decision and failed to follow the development of the proper rules.

The four largest US airlines have announced that mask mandates for domestic flights will be dropped, the New York Times reported after leaders wrote a letter to President Biden last month asking that the requirements be allowed to expire.

Delta issued a statement: “Effective immediately, masks are optional for all airport employees, crew members and customers inside U.S. airports and on board all domestic aircraft, as well than on most international flights. Delta employees and customers can continue to wear masks if they wish. Choose. Wearing a properly fitted mask protects the wearer, even if others around them are not wearing a mask.

The mask’s mandate had recently been extended by President Joe Biden’s administration until May 3. On Monday, the White House announced it would reconsider the decision, but confirmed that the Transportation Security Administration would stop enforcing a mask mandate.

“The mandate exceeded the CDC’s statutory authority, improperly invoked the just cause exception to notify and comment on rulemaking, and failed to adequately explain its decisions. Because ‘our system does not not allow agencies to act unlawfully even for desirable ends, “Court declares unlawful and voids mask warrant,” Mizelle wrote.

The Biden administration extended the term amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.

A number of states have sued the federal government to order an end to the mask mandate that covers passengers and crew on planes, trains, buses and rideshares.

The plaintiffs say there is “no high-quality data to support the effectiveness of mask mandates, with case numbers and hospitalizations trending largely downward, and 81.7% of the population who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine”.

It was not immediately clear if or when the order would go into effect or if the CDC would appeal. The Justice Department declined to comment but released a statement to ABC News.

“We are reviewing the decision and decline further comment,” the department said.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose state was among those who sued the government, celebrated the decision.

“It’s great to see a federal judge in Florida follow the law and dismiss the Biden mask-carrying warrant,” the governor said. “Airline workers and passengers deserve an end to this misery.”

The Transportation Security Administration released the following statement Monday evening:

Due to today’s court ruling, effective immediately, the TSA will no longer enforce its safety guidelines and emergency amendment requiring mask wearing on public transportation and transportation hubs. The TSA will also rescind new security guidelines that were due to take effect tomorrow. The CDC continues to recommend people wear masks on indoor public transportation at this time.

Additionally, Tampa International Airport has followed suit by releasing its own updated guidelines:

“Consistent with the TSA’s removal of its federal mask mandate, masks are now optional at Tampa International Airport, effective immediately. Passengers, employees and guests are no longer required to wear masks or face coverings at TPA facilities or terminals.”

The decision came with mixed reviews from passengers who spoke to ABC Action News:

“I’m sad because after that announcement when people got off the plane, probably 80-90% of people were still masked, like you, and I think that’s been overdone for over two years,” said Donald Toth.

“I think COVID cases continue to rise in the country and I think prevention is better than cure,” Kevin Hanrahan said. “I mean, I’m from Connecticut, we have a little different opinion than you do here in Florida.”

And they’re not the only ones who disagree.

ABC Action News also spoke to two trial attorneys at the center of the judge’s ruling and they disagree on whether or not the CDC exceeded its authority.

Pamella Seay, a law professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, says the CDC broke its own rules by not considering public comment on the matter. But Jeffrey Swartz, legal analyst for ABC Action News and professor of law at Western Michigan University, said the CDC has released its emergency guidelines.

The one thing the two men agreed on was that the airlines themselves still have the right to apply the masking rules if they wish.

“Whether there’s a reprieve or not, if I were the airlines, I would say, ‘You have a contractual obligation to obey every order of the people who work on our planes,'” Swartz said. If they tell you to put on a mask, you put on a mask. You don’t? You get off the plane.”

“Companies have the right to request a mask, so you can go through the airport and you don’t want to wear the mask, okay,” Seay said. “You get on the plane, you have to wear the mask if they ask you to.”

Click here for a full list of airlines revising their masking policies.

Melvin Z. Madore