The post-Trump GOP playbook has been pretty clear: use federal judges to void all Biden executive orders, and throw the country into chaos. This week's example is a Trump appointee shutting down mask mandates on airlines and other public transportation.
A federal judge in Florida struck down on Monday the Biden administration's mask mandate for airplanes and other public transport methods, and a Biden administration official says the order is no longer in effect while the ruling is reviewed.
US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle said the mandate was unlawful because it exceeded the statutory authority of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and because its implementation violated administrative law.
"The agencies are reviewing the decision and assessing potential next steps," the Biden administration official said Monday night. "In the meantime, today's court decision means CDC's public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time."
It is unclear if the Justice Department will seek an order halting the ruling and file an appeal.
Just last week, the CDC extended this mask mandate through May 3. The masking requirement applied to airplanes, trains, and other forms of public transportation.
A Biden administration official familiar with the White House's decision previously told CNN the goal of the extension was to gather more information and understanding of the BA.2 variant of the coronavirus. Covid-19 cases in the US are on the rise, leading universities and the City of Philadelphia to reimplement indoor mask mandates.
The first part of the judge's 59-page ruling turned on the meaning of the word "sanitation," as it functions in the 1944 statute that gives the federal government the authority -- in its efforts to combat communicable diseases -- to issue regulations concerning "sanitation."
Mizelle concluded that that the use of the word in the statute was limited to "measures that clean something."
"Wearing a mask cleans nothing," she wrote. "At most, it traps virus droplets. But it neither 'sanitizes' the person wearing the mask nor 'sanitizes' the conveyance."
She wrote that the mandate fell outside of the law because "the CDC required mask wearing as a measure to keep something clean -- explaining that it limits the spread of COVID-19 through prevention, but never contending that it actively destroys or removes it."
Mizelle suggested that the government's implementation of the mandate -- in which non-complying travelers are "forcibly removed from their airplane seats, denied board at the bus steps, and turned away at the train station doors" -- was akin to "detention and quarantine," which are not contemplated in the section of the law in question, she said.
"As a result, the Mask Mandate is best understood not as sanitation, but as an exercise of the CDC's power to conditionally release individuals to travel despite concerns that they may spread a communicable disease (and to detain or partially quarantine those who refuse)," she wrote. "But the power to conditionally release and detain is ordinarily limited to individuals entering the United States from a foreign country."
She added that the mandate also did not fit with a section of the law that would allow for detention of a traveler if he was, upon examination, found to infected.
"The Mask Mandate complies with neither of these subsections," the judge said. "It applies to all travelers regardless of their origins or destinations and makes no attempt to sort based on their health."