Biden administration appeals rejection of mask mandate after CDC says it must fight

The Justice Department told a Florida court Wednesday that it is appealing a judge’s ruling invalidating the federal mask mandate on public transportation after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the rule remains being vital to protect public health.

While it’s unclear whether the Biden administration will succeed, the move is likely to spark a firestorm after airline passengers gleefully removed their masks following Monday’s order. Justice Department lawyers had said they were ready to fight the order, but were waiting for the public health agency to give them the go-ahead.

“It is the continuing assessment of the CDC that, at this time, an order requiring the use of masks in the interior transportation corridor remains necessary for public health. CDC will continue to monitor public health conditions to determine if such an order remains necessary,” the agency said. “CDC believes this is a legal order, within CDC’s legal authority to protect public health.”

After two confusing days, the White House said it believed the decision to extend the use of masks on planes, trains and buses was within the CDC’s authority and said the power was important given the uncertain nature of the pandemic. even if the mandate was set. expires May 3.

The fight over the carry mask mandate had been something of a “Catch-22” for President Biden, who has repeatedly deferred to the CDC.

It’s caught between that deference to public scientists and a pandemic-weary public that wants to ditch masks and other rules, though an Associated Press-NORC poll on Wednesday said a majority of Americans support a mask mandate in the public transport.

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Still, the administration might be kicking the hornet’s nest after passengers enjoyed two days of mask-free travel on planes, Amtrak, major transit systems and even Uber and Lyft.

Legal experts said the administration faced a dilemma no matter which path it chose. The appeal could lead to a precedent-setting decision up the judicial scale that could dilute the CDC’s powers.

“If the judge’s decision is simply not challenged, it will be difficult or impossible to reinstate the mask mandate if there are surges in hospitalizations and deaths in the future. But if he appeals, he could lose in the 11th Circuit or in the Supreme Court,” Lawrence O. Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University, told The Washington Times before the Justice Department and CDC acted. .

US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, a Trump appointee, ruled Monday that the CDC overstepped its authority and failed to justify issuing the advice underpinning the mask mandate. She said the mandate conflicted with federal law because she did not adhere to the Administrative Procedures Act when issuing the order.

The ruling swept across the US, prompting major airlines to drop their rules on wearing masks. Major transit systems and ride-sharing services have also made face coverings optional.

The Biden administration quickly objected, saying that public health experts should make the final decision on the masks and that it was reasonable for the CDC to request an additional two weeks to study the trajectory of the BA.2 variant rather than let the mandate expires on April 18.

Judge Mizelle canceled it for them on Monday, forcing the administration to consider an appeal, though neither agency seemed willing to make a firm decision on Tuesday.

“The department continues to believe that the order requiring the use of masks in the transportation corridor is a valid exercise of the authority that Congress has given to the CDC to protect public health,” the spokesman said Tuesday night. of the Department of Justice, Anthony Coley. “That is an important authority that the department will continue to work to preserve.”

Biden has sought to bolster the CDC, considered the world’s top public health agency after the Trump administration was accused of sidelining the agency.

But that deference has led to political headaches of late.

The CDC recently advised the administration to lift Title 42, a pandemic order that allowed the US to turn away many immigrants at the southern border, effective May 23.

The decision sparked fears of a surge of immigrants, especially among centrist Democrats in border states, and upended Senate negotiations on a $10 billion COVID-19 funding package.

Republicans said that if Mr. Biden needs more money to fight COVID-19, then Title 42 should remain in place to thwart the virus.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that the CDC continues to call the shots, including on the mask mandate.

“Obviously they implemented this two-week extension because they felt they needed it to review the data given that we’ve seen an increase in cases,” he said. “We certainly hope to hear more from them soon about their [request to] have that time, which we believe is totally justified.”

The AP-NORC poll said 56% of Americans support mandatory mask wearing on planes, trains and public transportation compared to 24% who oppose it and 20% who say they are neither for nor in favor of it. against.

The survey of 1,085 adults was conducted Thursday through Monday, the day the mask mandate was lifted, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

“Public polling doesn’t really show that there is a universal view of people ditching their masks,” said Ms Psaki.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 Resources page.

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