News & Analysis

Federal Judge Strikes Down Public Transportation Mask Mandate

 A federal judge has struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) mask mandate for planes and other forms of public transportation. U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, of Tampa, Florida, stated the mandate exceeded the CDC’s authority and did not follow proper rule making procedure as outlined in the Administrative Procedure Act.

“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,” Mizelle said in a 59 page ruling.

The date of the ruling, Monday, April 18th, coincides with a previous expiration for the mandate, which was extended by the CDC last week to May 3rd. The Biden administration has expressed disappointment with the ruling and it is unclear if they plan to appeal or block it, though the White House has confirmed that going forward the Transportation Security Administration will no longer enforce the mandate, though they reiterate that the CDC recommends that travelers wear masks on public transit.

The CDC mask mandate has long a point of contention since January of 2021; since then, the Federal Aviation Administration has reported a record 7060 “unruly passenger incidents,” 70% of which involve masking. Last month the Senate, in a bipartisan 57-40 split, voted to end all travel mask mandates, with the White House threatening to veto the bill if it came across the President’s desk. Major airlines have been lobbying for months to end the mandate, arguing that highly efficient airplane ventilation makes it less likely that transmission of the virus will occur compared to other indoor spaces. 

Airlines for America, a group representing said airlines, stated “It makes no sense to require masks on a plane when masks are not recommended in places like restaurants, bars or crowded sports facilities.”