Federal Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, Florida, has struck down the national mask mandate for airlines and other mass transit on Monday.
Justice Mizelle, who was appointed to the U.S. District Court by Trump, has ruled that the CDC had no power to issue any such mandate at all. The CDC did so under the good faith exemption to the Administrative Procedure Act’s notice-and-comment rulemaking process. There is a statute that gives it that power in order to combat communicable disease as part of sanitation efforts. Mizelle’s argument is that because masks do not specifically clean anything, they cannot be counted as a sanitation effort. She also argued that any travel restrictions on those not demonstrably sick were unenforceable.
The CDC continues to recommend mask wearing. They had recently extended the mask mandate to May 3rd, to allow a little more time to study the new omicron subvariant already responsible for most of the cases in the U.S. The omicron variants, while less deadly as an infection, spread very easily and often do not show up on most commercially available home COVID tests.
While case numbers are dipping, there were still over 60,000 new cases in the U.S. on the day of Mizelle’s ruling, and over 300 deaths. Despite this, airlines immediately announced lifting mask requirements for flight crews and passengers.
The Justice Department declined to comment when asked if it would seek an emergency stay to block the order of the federal judge. The CDC also declined to comment.
“This is obviously a disappointing decision,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “The CDC is recommending wearing a mask on public transit.”
It is also worth looking at the source of the ruling. Justice Mizelle, whose husband was also appointed to a high government position by Donald Trump, was rated “Not Qualified” by a majority of the American Bar Association as a judge but put into place by a Senate confirmation anyway, with the vote divided 41/49 along party lines. At 33 and never having tried a single case as an attorney, she was handed a lifetime appointment as District Court Judge.