A federal judge on Monday struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s face mask mandate for airplanes and other public transit.
Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle wrote in her decision that the CDC exceeded its statutory authority with the order.
“Our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends,” she wrote, acknowledging that the CDC imposed the mandate to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
It was not immediately clear how quickly the ruling will be implemented across the US and whether the Justice Department will appeal the ruling.
Kimball Mizelle was appointed by former President Donald Trump and, when she was nominated to the bench in 2020, received a “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association because she’d only practiced law for eight years — rather than the ABA’s recommended 12 — and hadn’t tried a case as lead attorney or co-counsel.
The anti-mask lawsuit was initially filed last July by a nonprofit called Health Freedom Defense Fund, an organization that has sued to block other COVID-19 restrictions and mandates.
Two individuals in Tampa also were listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. They were Ana Daza, who said wearing a mask worsened her anxiety, and Sarah Pope, who said mask wearing exacerbated her panic attacks.
In explaining her decision, Kimball Mizelle wrote in her 59-page opinion that the mask mandate was akin to “detention and quarantine,” an authority the CDC typically invokes only for people entering the US from other countries. The mandate also doesn’t take into account whether someone is infected with COVID-19, she wrote.
“They are forcibly removed from their airplane seats, denied boarding at the bus steps, and turned away at the train station doors — all on the suspicion that they will spread a disease,” she wrote of maskless passengers.
Mask use has been one of the most debated topics of the pandemic. A total of 21 states, led by Florida, had also sued to end the mask mandate.
“Every U.S. citizen should have the right to fly unmasked,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said in a statement accompanying the state lawsuit, filed March 29. “It is well past time to get rid of this unnecessary mandate and get back to normal life.”
On Monday, DeSantis praised the judge’s ruling in a statement that he also sent on Twitter.
“It’s great to see a federal judge in Florida follow the law and reject the Biden transportation mask mandate,” he said. “Both airline employees and passengers deserve to have this misery end.”
The Biden administration has largely encouraged businesses and schools to return to normal and for individuals to mask indoors only if they choose. Despite this change, the CDC did extend the mask mandate for public transit through May 3. The Northeast is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases because of the BA.2 omicron subvariant.
The mandate applied to buses, trains, and airplanes.
United Airlines said that its mask mandate would stay in effect until it received more information about whether the federal government intended to appeal the ruling.
In a Washington Post Live event Monday, ahead of the ruling, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said he hoped to see mask mandates soon end on flights.
“We’re all hoping coming May 3 the mandate expires and the government puts it on individuals,” Bastian said. “In other sectors of the economy, there are no masks. It just doesn’t make sense.”
The ruling comes as airlines have faced a surge in unruly customers.
This report was published on Insider.