As noted in my post on April 18, a federal district judge in Florida struck down the requirement to wear facemasks on planes, trains, and buses and when in terminals and stations for such transport. Yesterday, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a notice that it intends to appeal the decision.
The federal mask requirement was originally implemented by U.S. airlines (not the government) in 2020 as a confidence-boosting measure to get more people to buy plane tickets. The Biden administration made it a federal rule to protect public health on February 1, 2021.
CDC Statement on Masks in Public Transportation Settings
On April 20, 2022, the CDC issued a Statement on Masks in Public Transportation Settings and requested that the DOJ appeal the decision. The CDC’s statement provides in part:
CDC continues to recommend that people wear masks in all indoor public transportation settings. CDC’s number one priority is protecting the public health of our nation. As we have said before, wearing masks is most beneficial in crowded or poorly ventilated locations, such as the transportation corridor. When people wear a well-fitting mask or respirator over their nose and mouth in indoor travel or public transportation settings, they protect themselves, and those around them, including those who are immunocompromised or not yet vaccine-eligible, and help keep travel and public transportation safer for everyone.”
In striking down the federal mandate, the district judge ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) exceeded its statutory authority. The CDC requested that the DOJ appeal the decision because it believes a mask mandate is still required to protect public health and to better define the limits of its authority.
Potential Effects of the District Court Ruling
There is risk in an appeal. A district court decision is not binding precedent that other courts must follow. But if an appeals court or the Supreme Court rules against the CDC, those decisions would have binding effects. We all stand to lose if the CDC is unable to adequately address future national public health issues.
If the reasoning of the district court prevails, there is no winner from a political viewpoint. While Republicans generally support eliminating the mask mandate, they supported wholeheartedly the CDC’s order under the Trump administration blocking all migrants at the southern border.
In March 2020, using the same statutory authority as the mask mandate, Trump’s CDC director issued an order which gave that allowed the administration to block asylum seekers and others without “valid travel documents” from entering the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If the authority of the statute the CDC relied on to require masks is so narrow that the CDC cannot mandate masks on planes, it would seem to follow that the statute does not give the CDC the power to block all immigrants and asylum seekers at the border. The politicization of the courts and public health confuses the public, undermines the rule of law, and erodes confidence in the agencies tasked with keeping the public safe during pandemics.
The district court decision leaves a confusing patchwork of masking requirements in public transportation because the ruling has no effect on orders issued by state and local public health authorities. For example, public health agencies in New York City and Los Angeles still require wearing a mask in the airports in their jurisdictions.
Good luck figuring out what the rules are where you live or are traveling to. To be safe and to avoid violating any local rules, I’ll still wear a good mask in public wherever I go.
Some masks are not recommended.