A federal judge on Monday struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s rule that all travelers must wear masks on airplanes, buses, trains and other modes of public transportation, calling it “unlawful.”
The ruling, from U.S. District Court Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, Florida, said the CDC had overstepped its legal authority by imposing the mandate in February 2021.
The mask requirement “violates the procedures required for agency rulemaking,” Mizelle wrote.
The CDC has renewed the travel mask mandate several times, most recently extending it through May 3.
“The court agreed that the CDC overstepped its statutory authority when it ordered every person who enters a travel conveyance or travel hub to wear a mask,” Brant Hadaway, the attorney who introduced the lawsuit, told NBC News via text.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are two women, Ana Carolina Daza and Sarah Pope, along with the Health Freedom Defense Fund, a Wyoming nonprofit that has challenged Covid vaccine and mask mandates in other parts of the country.
The suit alleged that the CDC mandate was “arbitrary and capricious,” since it gave exemptions to certain groups — like children under 2 years old — but not others.
Daza said her anxiety should qualify as a medical exemption to the CDC rule, while Pope said the “constricted breathing from wearing a mask” exacerbated her panic attacks.
Biden administration lawyers, meanwhile, argued that Congress provided broad authority to take reasonable public health measures to prevent the spread of disease. They said the mask mandate was a conventional sanitation measure within the CDC’s authority.
The Justice Department declined immediate comment on whether the government would seek to block the judge’s order and allow the mandate to remain in effect. The CDC, FAA, and TSA said they were evaluating their options, and the MTA said it would continue to follow the CDC guidelines as it reviews the new decision.
Judge Mizelle, who once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, was appointed to the Middle District of Florida bench in 2020 by President Donald Trump.
This is a breaking story. Check back for updates.
Marc Caputo and David K. Li contributed.