The U.S. Justice Department likely isn't going to win any popularity contests over this, but having the power to introduce mask mandates on public transportation during an acute health crisis is a right worth litigating.
The Justice Department on Tuesday asked an appeals court panel to reverse an April 2021 ruling that declared unlawful a government order requiring masks on airplanes, buses, trains, ridesharing services and at airports and other transportation hubs.
A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on the government’s appeal of a ruling by a U.S. district court judge in Florida that found the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lacked legal authority to issue a nationwide travel mask mandate to combat COVID-19.
The CDC issued the sweeping mask mandate in January 2021, days after Joe Biden became president.
A report from U.S. lawmakers in October said the Trump administration in 2020 blocked the CDC from adopting a federal transportation mask mandate.
Much of the arguments in the appeal focus on the CDC’s decision to put in place the requirements immediately rather than give the public a chance to comment on the mandate.
Justice Department lawyer Brian Springer said the CDC could impose mask requirements without giving the public time to comment given the pandemic emergency, arguing it was necessary “to prevent the possible infections and deaths that could result if people didn’t do the simple thing of just putting on a mask while they were traveling.”
Lawyer Brant C. Hadaway representing the five people who had sued to challenge the mandate noted the CDC last year had not sought a stay of the district court’s ruling.
“This is not about an urgent matter of public health,” Hadaway told the court. He argued that had the CDC believed the issue was a “matter of life and death” the agency would have sought a faster ruling.
The European Union earlier this month recommended face masks for passengers flying to its member countries from China, which is experiencing a major COVID-19 outbreak after lifting its zero-COVID policy.
(Reporting by David Shepardson Editing by Bill Berkrot)
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Photo credit: Travelers wearing masks at an airport. Pavlo Vakhrushev / Skift