The US Justice Department Tuesday said it would only appeal Monday's ruling by Florida Federal District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ending President Joseph Biden's mask mandate in public transport units if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes the requirement is still necessary.
Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley explained that the federal mask order was “a valid exercise of the authority Congress has given CDC to protect the public health.” He said it was “an important authority the Department will continue to work to preserve.” He insisted the CDC would continue to assess public health conditions, and if the agency determined a mandate was necessary for public health, the Justice Department would file an appeal.
After the judge's decision, major airlines and airports like Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake City switched to a mask-optional policy. Los Angeles County dropped its mandate for mass transit and a train conductor in New Jersey reportedly told commuters “Feel free to burn them at will.”
However, other jurisdictions such as New York City, Chicago, and Connecticut, continued to require masks for travelers, it was reported.
Airlines are deciding on their own on the use of masks aboard their aircraft.
Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle found that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had overstepped its authority since it failed to properly explain its decision to impose the mandate or follow proper rulemaking procedures.
“The agencies are reviewing the decision and assessing potential next steps. In the meantime, today’s court decision means CDC’s public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time,” a Biden administration official was quoted as saying.
Almost immediately, Alaska Airlines announced that masks would be optional for travelers and employees alike and United Airlines quickly followed suit, announcing that masks were no longer required on domestic flights and select international flights, depending upon the arrival country’s requirements. American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and Southwest Airlines also made masks optional Monday night.
“Because ‘our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in the pursuit of desirable ends,’ the court declares unlawful and vacates the mask mandate,” Mizelle stressed.
White House Spokeswoman Jen Psaki found the ruling “disappointing,” but admitted the Government had not decided on any particular course of action at that point, although she insisted that “the CDC continues recommending wearing a mask on public transit.”
Mizelle’s 59-page ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed in July by the nonprofit Health Freedom Defense Fund on behalf of two women who claimed that wearing masks on airplanes triggered or exacerbated anxiety and panic attacks.
The CDC had just extended for another 15 days the mask mandate which was due to expire Monday. The sanitary agency had claimed it needed more time to examine the BA.2 Omicron subvariant of SARS-CoV-2, as cases of COVID-19 were on the rise.
Chief executive officers of all major airlines had requested the Biden administration last month to end the mask mandate. “It makes no sense that people are still required to wear masks on airplanes, yet are allowed to congregate in crowded restaurants, schools and at sporting events without masks, despite none of these venues having the protective air filtration system that aircraft do,” the letter from the CEOs said.