A US federal judge on Monday struck down the Covid-19 mask mandate for public transportation imposed by the administration of President Joe Biden.
US district judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle of the Middle District of Florida said the mask mandate exceeds the statutory authority of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The mandate requiring face masks on airplanes, subways, trains, buses, taxis and other forms of public transportation was recently extended by the CDC until May 3 amid a rise in coronavirus cases.
US airlines and a number of Republican lawmakers have called for an end to the mask mandate, which was issued by the CDC on Feb 3, 2021, shortly after Biden took office.
In light of the decision, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which runs security at airports, will not enforce directives “requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs at this time,” an administration official said.
Mizelle, a nominee of former Republican president Donald Trump, issued her ruling in a lawsuit filed in July 2021 by a conservative non-profit organisation called the Health Freedom Defense Fund and two individual plaintiffs.
Although the public has a “strong interest” in combating the spread of Covid, the judge said, the mask mandate “exceeded the CDC’s statutory authority,” and it “failed to adequately explain its decisions.”
“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,” Mizelle said in a 59-page ruling.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the ruling a “disappointing decision.”
“The CDC continues recommending wearing a mask in public transit,” Psaki said.
There was no immediate comment from the Justice Department, which could potentially appeal the ruling.