The Biden administration is appealing a federal judge’s ruling that the government didn’t have the right to impose a federal mask mandate on public transportation during the pandemic.

The Justice Department on Tuesday argued that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had the legal authority to require travelers to wear masks on planes, trains and buses to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals, the Washington Examiner reported.

The appeal comes nine months after a Florida judge struck down the federal mask mandate, ruling that the CDC failed to follow proper rule-making procedures.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit, including the Health Freedom Defense Fund, said the Justice Department’s decision to wait to appeal shows a lack of urgency in the matter.

“This appeal is not about an urgent matter of public health. If the mask order had been such an urgent matter of public health, you would have expected CDC to have applied for a stay to the district court’s ruling,” an attorney representing the Health Freedom Defense Fund said, according to the Examiner.

CDC headquarters entrance sign
The Justice Department argued that the CDC was within its authority to enact a federal mask mandate during the pandemic.

The appeals panel seemed to take issue with the government’s belief that the CDC had “good cause” to enact the mask mandate immediately instead of providing the public the time to review and comment on the ruling before it was imposed on them — as required through the federal Administrative Procedure Act, the outlet reported.

Lawyers for the Justice Department attempted to compromise, asking the appeals court to at least rule that the CDC had the power to enact the federal mask mandate.

“You can imagine the next pandemic, there was an outbreak of measles or SARS and the CDC would want to and need to take swift action in order to control such a pandemic in the future,” the attorney for the Justice Department said. “I think the important thing here is that the potential collateral estoppel effect of the district court’s ruling could tie up future CDC actions.”

Travelers and employees wear masks at a Southwest Airlines baggage check-in area.
The Justice Department appeal comes nine months after a federal judge struck down the mask mandate.

On April 18, US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, an appointee of President Donald Trump, ruled that the CDC overstepped its authority to impose the mask mandate. The Biden administration immediately dropped the mandate — which had been in place since January 2021 — following the ruling and travelers were able to ditch the masks.

Following the ruling, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration had not decided whether to appeal.

Mizelle’s decision was in response to a lawsuit filed by the Health Freedom Defense Fund on behalf of two women who claimed that wearing masks on airplanes triggered or exacerbated anxiety and panic attacks.

Republicans attacked the Justice Department’s decision to appeal the ruling — fearing a return of the federal mask mandate.

“If you want to wear a mask on a plane, no one’s stopping you,” Florida Rep. Brian Mast tweeted. “But we’re not going back to mandates. Period.”


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