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CDC mask mandate for planes, trains no longer in effect after judge rules it ‘unlawful’

A federal judge on Monday struck down the CDC’s requirement that all travelers wear masks on airplanes, buses, trains and other modes of public transportation.
/ Source: NBC News

A federal judge on Monday struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s rule that required all travelers to wear masks on airplanes, buses, trains and other modes of public transportation, with the White House later saying that the “decision means CDC’s public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time.”

The ruling, which called the mandate “unlawful,” 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,” U.S. District Court Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle wrote.

The CDC had renewed the travel mask mandate several times, most recently extending it through May 3.

Because of Monday’s ruling, a Biden administration official said, “TSA will not enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs at this time.”

Airlines for America, a trade association representing major North American airlines, seemed to welcome the ruling, but couldn’t speak for its individual members.

“U.S. airlines have been strong advocates for eliminating pandemic-era policies and are encouraged by the lifting of the federal transportation mask mandate,” the group said.

Several airlines, including United, Delta, American and Alaska, issued statements saying masks are now optional.

Amtrak also said masks would no longer be required on trains.

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-19 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.

“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.

Biden administration lawyers 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.

“This is obviously a disappointing decision. The CDC continues recommending wearing a mask on public transit,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a Monday briefing.

“Right now the Department of Homeland Security, who would be implementing, and the CDC are reviewing the decision and of course the Department of Justice would make any determinations about litigation,” she added.

The Justice Department declined immediate comment on its plans.

The MTA said it would continue to follow CDC recommendations as it reviews the new decision, and New Jersey Transit said masks will still be required onboard its trains.

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.

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