A federal judge in Florida has ruled that the CDC's mask mandate in airports, transit hubs, and public transportation is unlawful and has ordered that it be struck down.
US District Court Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle for the Middle District of Florida wrote in a summary judgment that the CDC had exceeded its legal powers by issuing the mandate in January 2021 to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
"The Court concludes that the Mask Mandate exceeds the CDC's statutory authority and violates the procedures required for agency rulemaking under the [Administrative Procedure Act]," Mizelle wrote in her ruling. "Accordingly, the Court vacates the Mandate and remands it to the CDC."
She determined that the CDC had improperly invoked what is known as the "good cause exception" to do away with public notice and comment on the mandate, and that it failed to adequately explain its decisions in violation of administrative law.
"Because 'our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends,'" Mizelle wrote, quoting another case, "the Court declares unlawful and vacates the Mask Mandate."
The surprise order, which may be appealed, is expected to create confusion at airports and on transportation across the US.
A Biden administration official told reporters that agencies were reviewing the decision in order to determine next steps, but they conceded the ruling meant the CDC's mask mandate was no longer in effect.
"Therefore, TSA will not enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs at this time," the official said. "CDC recommends that people continue to wear masks in indoor public transportation settings."
Last week, the CDC had extended its mask mandate until at least May 3, pointing to the spread of the Omicron BA.2 variant in the US.
The lawsuit was first brought in July 2021 by the conservative group Health Freedom Defense Fund (HFDF) and two Florida residents who said wearing masks increased their anxiety and panic attacks.
Officials with the Department of Justice declined to comment on the ruling. Officials at CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“There are laws that set boundaries for federal agencies to protect individual freedom and the court clearly found that CDC exceeded those limits," HFDF President Leslie Manookian said in a statement. "Unelected officials cannot do whatever they like to our personal freedoms just because they claim good motives and a desirable goal.”
Mizelle was 33 when she became the youngest person successfully appointed by former president Donald Trump to the federal bench in November 2020. The American Bar Association had advised that she was "not qualified" for the lifetime appointment. She is married to Chad Mizelle, who served as acting general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security under Trump, as well as associate counsel at the Trump White House.