Justice Department Appeals Transportation Mask Mandate Ruling

Justice Department Appeals Transportation Mask Mandate Ruling
Travellers wait in line at a Delta Airlines counter at Logan International Airport in Boston on April 19, 2022. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The Department of Justice is appealing a judge’s ruling that ended a federal mask mandate on public transportation and planes, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined the mandate was still necessary.

“In light of today’s assessment by [the CDC] that an order requiring masking in the transportation corridor remains necessary to protect the public health, the department has filed a notice of appeal in Health Freedom Defense Fund, Inc., et al., v. Biden, et al,” Anthony Coley, an agency spokesman, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The notice of appeal was filed in federal court in Tampa. The department’s announcement came minutes after the CDC asked it to appeal a decision handed down by a federal judge in Florida earlier this week.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit will decide whether to grant an appeal or not.

U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, directed the CDC on April 18 to reverse the policy nationwide. The Trump appointee ruled that the CDC mask mandate on planes, trains, and other public transportation, exceeded the agency’s statutory authority because its implementation violated administrative law.

Airlines and airports across the nation lifted mandates on masks just hours after the ruling. The Transportation Security Administration also said on April 18 that it would not enforce the mask requirement. Ride-sharing companies including Uber and Lyft had also rescinded mask-wearing requirements.

A day later, the Justice Department said it would appeal the ruling if the CDC determined the mandate was still needed. The CDC said in a statement on the same day it was “continuing assessment that, at this time, an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health.”
The mask mandate was set to expire on May 3 before the agency recently extended it. It said the extension was to allow it more time to study the BA.2 Omicron subvariant, which now accounts for the vast majority of cases in the United States.

It is unclear whether the Biden administration will ask the appeals court to grant an emergency stay to immediately reimpose the mask mandate on public transportation.