As states throughout the country lifted mask mandates, the federal government extended the mask mandate for commercial travel through May 3. However, it finally died in a Florida court.

U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled that “the Mask Mandate exceeds the CDC’s statutory authority and violates the procedures required for agency rulemaking under the APA. Accordingly, the Court vacates the Mandate and remands it to the CDC.”

This decision has met with mixed reactions. Citizens and flight attendants cheered, while the Biden White House recommended continued masking.

Background

The CDC instituted the mask mandate for commercial travel at the request of the Biden administration on January 21, 2021—one day after President Joe Biden was sworn in.

On February 3, 2021, the CDC published a federal rule mandating masks on commercial transportation such as planes and buses, as well as in airports and other transit hubs.

However, when issuing this federal rule, the CDC ignored the proper notice and comment procedure required by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Notice and comment allows citizens and businesses to register grievances with the proposed rule, and the federal agency—in this case, the CDC—is required to address the possible issues with the rule in its final publication.

Although the APA allows for a good cause exception if the rule is necessary in an emergency situation, Mizelle addressed this exception by stating “the Mandate exceeded the CDC’s statutory authority, improperly invoked the good cause exception to notice and comment rulemaking, and failed to adequately explain its decisions.”

Reactions

Southwest Airlines, headquartered in Dallas, announced, “As a result of this development, effective immediately, Southwest Employees and Customers will be able to choose whether they would like to wear a mask on flights, at domestic ​airports, and at some international locations.”

One Southwest gate attendant eagerly announced the end to the mask mandate at D.C.’s Reagan National Airport but was met with little applause in the D.C. swamp.

However, cheering is not the only reaction at Reagan, as Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson noted.

Although the mandate is halted, American Airlines, headquartered in Fort Worth, announced the following:

In keeping with our commitment to creating a welcoming environment for everyone who travels with us, customers and team members may choose to continue to wear masks at their own discretion. We are deeply grateful to our team members for their enforcement of the mandate, and will share more information about this transition in the coming days.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who filed a lawsuit alongside the Texas Public Policy Foundation and U.S. Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R–Texas) against mask mandates on airplanes, called the ruling “a win for freedom.”

Texas Minute Reader Reactions

Texas Minute readers shared their reactions with Texas Scorecard:

“It’s worth noting that the judge’s ruling was that the CDC did not have the authority to implement a mandate,” said Jim Andrade. “I believe this is the part the left is most worried about: limits on their power even under the emergency declaration. First, a judge says the CDC can’t make mandates about rents and now about masks. The COVID fascists need the CDC to underpin their power, and it is crumbling.”

“I’m currently at DFW airport waiting on a flight to Tampa,” Dan Dennis of Covington told Texas Scorecard. “It’s a mix of masks and no masks in the terminal. There were no hassles; apparently, the word was passed quickly around the airport yesterday. Gotta say, this is the best I’ve felt about flying in more than 25 years of travel.”

“What took so long?” asked Roxann Bilger.

“Democrats operate best out of fear,” says Cathy Blake of Fate. “They realize they’re losing the fear of COVID-19 by the airline mask mandate being removed. They are scrambling to regain that control, to try to keep the people afraid. But, strangely, no Texas Democrat was afraid of flying to D.C., maskless, to bust quorum. Typical left-wing, liberal, Democrat hypocrisy.”

What Happens Now

Despite the overturning of the federal mask mandate, the CDC could challenge the ruling by following the APA rulemaking process to the letter and creating a new mask mandate that better stands up to judicial scrutiny. The question would then become one of whether the CDC possesses the statutory authority to institute such a wide-reaching mandate.

Meanwhile, Texas remains under a state of emergency declared by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the COVID-19 pandemic policies are far from over. Abbott continues to renew the COVID-19 disaster declaration, which is the basis of every COVID-related executive order, including the one preventing vaccine mandates. Despite the opportunities in the regular 87th Legislative Session as well as the three special sessions, the Legislature failed to pass any laws prohibiting vaccine mandates.

The remnants of 2020 decisions will live on in education, legislation (or lack thereof), and overreaching executive power. Citizens must remain vigilant to the future uses of these “emergency” powers.