Justice Department Prepares To Appeal Judge's Ruling On Transportation Mask Mandate

The appeal of the federal judge's decision will only happen if the CDC says the mask order is needed beyond May 3, when the mandate was expected to expire.

The Department of Justice announced Tuesday that it’s prepared to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that had lifted the federal mask mandates on airplanes and other modes of public transportation.

The DOJ said in its announcement that it will go forward with the appeal if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decides the COVID-19 safety mandate is necessary past May 3, which is when it was scheduled to end until a federal judge in Florida ordered it lifted on Monday.

“The Department continues to believe that the order requiring masking in the transportation corridor is a valid exercise of the authority Congress has given CDC to protect the public health,” DOJ spokesperson Anthony Coley said. “That is an important authority the Department will continue to work to preserve.”

The announcement comes a day after U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, a Donald Trump nominee, ruled that the federal mask mandate exceeded the authority of U.S. health officials, writing in her 59-page decision that they may not “act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends,” such as protecting public health.

The Transportation Security Administration, which has been responsible for enforcing the mask rule on modes of public transportation since the early days of the pandemic, announced shortly after Mizelle’s ruling that it would no longer do so but reminded people that the CDC still encouraged masks at indoor transit hubs.

By that evening, most major airlines decided they would no longer enforce any mask rules, with some announcing the change to passengers mid-flight. Amtrak, Uber and many airports soon followed suit.

Until last week, the CDC was slated to lift the mask mandate that day, but the agency decided to extend it through May 3, citing the need for more time to observe the effects of the BA.2 omicron subvariant currently dominating new cases across the U.S.

New cases are on the rise in more than 30 states, but hospitalizations remain fairly low.

Mask requirements have been a source of political divide for much of the pandemic, with Democrats largely favoring them as a common-sense public health measure amid the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, and Republicans widely rejecting them as an infringement on personal liberties. However, recent polls have found that it’s more popular to maintain the mask mandate on transit spaces, with 60% of Americans supporting its continuation.

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