ST. PETERSBURG (AP) — A federal judge in Florida has voided the national mask mandate covering airplanes and other public transportation as exceeding the authority of U.S. health officials.
The decision Monday by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention improperly failed to justify its decision and did not follow proper rulemaking.
In her 59-page ruling, Mizelle said the only remedy was to vacate the rule entirely because it would be impossible to end it for the limited group of people who objected to it in the lawsuit.
The judge said "a limited remedy would be no remedy at all" and that the courts have full authority to make a decision such as this — even if the goals of the CDC in fighting the virus are laudable.
"Because our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends, the court declares unlawful and vacates the mask mandate," she wrote.
TSA said effectively immediately the agency "will no longer enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs. TSA will also rescind the new Security Directives that were scheduled to take effect tomorrow."
The White House said that "agencies are reviewing the decision and assessing potential next steps. In the meantime, today's court decision means CDC's public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time."
Both Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport announced masks would be optional for travelers.
And Miami-Dade County said it will not require masks at any transit hub, including stations, buses, Metrorail and Metromover.
The CDC recently extended the mask mandate, which was set to expire Monday, until May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant of the coronavirus that is now responsible for the vast majority of cases in the U.S.
The mask requirement for travelers was the target of months of lobbying from the airlines, which sought to kill it. The carriers argued that effective air filters on modern planes make transmission of the virus during a flight highly unlikely. Republicans in Congress also fought to kill the mandate.
Critics have seized on the fact that states have rolled back rules requiring masks in restaurants, stores and other indoor settings, and yet COVID-19 cases have fallen sharply since the omicron variant peaked in mid-January.
There have been a series of violent incidents on aircraft that have mainly been attributed to disputes over the mask-wearing requirements.
The lawsuit was filed in July 2021 by two plaintiffs and the Health Freedom Defense Fund, described in the judge's order as a nonprofit group that "opposes laws and regulations that force individuals to submit to the administration of medical products, procedures and devices against their will."
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