A federal judge in Florida declared President Joe Biden’s sweeping federal travel mask mandate null and void on Monday after she determined that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grossly exceeded its power by muzzling Americans for more than a year.
U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled that “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 concluded.
Biden first requested the rule for planes, trains, ride-sharing vehicles, and other forms of transportation via an executive order just one day after assuming office in 2021. Since then, the government agency has extended the mandate period four times.
The CDC justified its rule by claiming that masks blocked “exhaled virus” and that Covid-19 in the U.S. was so rampant that a 30-day comment period would be inappropriate. But as Mizelle noted, the CDC’s mask guidance was broad and allowed for flawed face coverings that don’t stop viral spread. She also noted that at the time of the rule’s creation, Covid-19 case numbers in the U.S. were decreasing.
“The Mask Mandate’s Failure To Provide Notice And Comment Was Not Harmless Error,” one of the headers in the ruling noted.
The Health Freedom Defense Fund and other plaintiffs who struggle with conditions not conducive to mask-wearing challenged the rule in July 2021 as a gross abuse of power by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They cited the CDC’s failure to allow public input on the rule in compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act and failure to act within the parameters set by the Public Health Services Act of 1944 as the biggest reasons to void the mandate.
Mizelle largely agreed with these allegations and noted that the CDC does not hold the statutory power nor the authority to enlist “local governments, airport employees, flight attendants, and even ride-sharing drivers” to remove and detain passengers who wouldn’t wear a mask “all on the suspicion that they will spread a disease.”
“In short, [passengers’] freedom of movement is curtailed in a way similar to detention and quarantine,” Mizelle wrote before noting that disease detention traditionally only applies to international travelers. “And yet, in this statute, the CDC finds a power over public health that ‘was traditionally understood — and still is understood — as a function of state police power.'”
As Mizelle noted, no court had yet ruled on the mask mandate but there’s plenty of evidence and previous rulings to suggest the CDC overstepped its bounds.
“Within the past two years, the CDC has found … the power to shut down the cruise ship industry, stop landlords from evicting tenants who have not paid their rent, and require that persons using public conveyances wear masks,” Mizelle wrote. “Courts have concluded that the first two of these measures exceeded the CDC’s statutory authority.”