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Judge voids nationwide mask mandate for mass transit, some airlines drop requirements

White House: TSA to stop enforcement of mandate
Virus Outbreak-Masks
Posted at 1:43 PM, Apr 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-18 23:11:11-04

A federal judge in Florida has voided the national mask mandate covering airplanes and other public transportation as exceeding the authority of U.S. health officials.

The decision Monday by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention improperly failed to justify its decision and did not follow proper rulemaking.

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

Delta released a statement, "Effective immediately, masks are optional for all airport employees, crew members and customers inside U.S. airports and on board all aircraft domestically, as well as on most international flights. Delta employees and customers may continue wearing masks if they so choose. Wearing a well-fitting mask protects the wearer, even if others around them are not wearing masks."

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

"The Mandate exceeded the CDC's statutory authority, improperly invoked the good cause exception to notice and comment rulemaking, and failed to adequately explain its decisions. 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 wrote.

The Biden administration extended the mandate amid a small increase 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 onboard planes, trains, buses and rideshares.

The plaintiffs claim there is "no high-quality data to support the efficacy of mask mandates, case numbers and hospitalizations experiencing a largely downward trend, and 81.7% of the population having 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 whether the CDC will appeal. The Justice Department declined to comment but released a statement to ABC News.

"We’re reviewing the decision and are declining any further comment," the department said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose state was among those that sued the government, celebrated the ruling.

"Great to see a federal judge in Florida follow the law and reject the Biden transportation mask mandate," the governor said. "Both airline employees and passengers deserve to have this misery end."

The Transportation Security Administration released the following statement Monday night:

Due to today’s court ruling, effective immediately, TSA will no longer enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs. TSA will also rescind the new Security Directives that were scheduled to take effect tomorrow. CDC continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings at this time.

Additionally, the Tampa International Airport followed suit, issuing its own updated guidance:

"Per 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 in any of the facilities or terminals at TPA."

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

"I'm sad because after that announcement as people exited the plane probably 80-90 percent of the people were still masked, as you are, and I think it's been an over-exaggeration for over two years," Donald Toth said.

"I think COVID cases are still rising in the country and I think its better safe than sorry," Kevin Hanrahan said. "I mean, I'm from Connecticut, we have a little different opinion than you have down here in Florida."

And they're not the only ones in disagreement.

ABC Action News also spoke to two attorneys about the lawsuit at the center of the judge's ruling and they don't see eye to eye on whether or not the CDC overstepped its authority.

Florida Gulf Coast University Law professor Pamella Seay argues the CDC broke its own rules by not taking public comment on the matter. But, ABC Action News legal analyst and Western Michigan University Law Professor, Jeffrey Swartz, said the CDC issued its guidelines while in an emergency situation.

The only thing the pair did agree on is that the airlines themselves still have a right to enforce masking rules if they want to.

"Whether there's a stay on this or not, if I were the airlines I would be saying, 'you have a contractual obligation to obey all of the orders of the people who work on our airplanes," Swartz said. "If they tell you to put a mask on, you put a mask on. You don't? You get off the airplane."

"The businesses have a right to ask for 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 airplane you have to wear the mask if they ask you to."

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