How did a judge in Florida strike down the nationwide mask mandate?
Last week, the Biden administration announced a 15-day extension of the mask mandate for airplanes and other forms of public transportation. While the mandate was set to expire on Monday, the move would have kept it in place through May 3.
But the mask mandate ended up expiring on Monday after all.
That’s because Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, struck down the mandate yesterday.
In a 59-page order, Mizelle ruled that the mandate exceeded the CDC’s authority under the Public Health Service Act of 1944, which allows the agency to make public health orders regarding “sanitation.”
“Wearing a mask cleans nothing,” she wrote. “At most, it traps virus droplets. But it neither ‘sanitizes’ the person wearing the mask or ‘sanitizes’ the conveyance.”
Within hours of Mizelle’s ruling, masks were being removed on airplanes.
All of the major airlines in the U.S. — including American, Delta, Southwest, and United — have now moved to make their flights mask-optional. (The song “Celebration” played on one flight as passengers took their masks right after the decision was handed down.)
According to the White House, the CDC continues to recommend masking in public transportation settings — but the TSA will no longer enforce the mandate, as the agencies consider whether to appeal Mizelle’s decision.
But the sudden reversal calls a few quirks of the American judicial system into question: After all, how exactly did a judge in Florida manage to strike down the mask mandate for traveling in the entire country?
The answer is a powerful legal tool known as a “nationwide injunction.”
Nationwide injunctions are rulings handed down by a single district judge — like Mizelle, who sits on the federal bench in Tampa — that stop the federal government from taking an action across the country. (The orders are usually temporary, only applying while challenges against the government are going through litigation in higher courts.)
As the Congressional Research Service notes, there is no federal law or Supreme Court case that explicitly allows nationwide injunctions: around the 1960s, some district judges just began handing down orders against the government that they declared were effective nationwide. Eventually, the practice became widely accepted, as seen on Monday, when the government adhered to Mizelle’s ruling.
Use of nationwide injunctions has accelerated in recent years, bedeviling presidents of both parties.
While serving as attorney general during the Trump administration, Jeff Sessions famously said in 2017 that he was “amazed” that a “judge sitting on an island in the Pacific” (meaning a district judge based in Hawaii) could make a decision that applied across the country.
In the Biden era, nationwide injunctions have been used to halt the president’s policies on vaccines, immigration, climate, and more. There have been some calls for Congress or the Supreme Court to invalidate the practice of nationwide injunctions — including from Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch — but so far, they have been allowed to stand.
The mask mandate ruling also highlights the success of Trump’s efforts to stock the federal judiciary with conservatives.
Confirmed at age 33, Mizelle was the youngest federal judge appointed by Trump. She will now serve on the federal bench for life, one of hundreds of Trump picks who will influence jurisprudence in the coming decades. [ from the Daily Beast - Mizelle was appointed to the federal bench by President Trump in 2020. She was 33, and had been practicing law for only 8 years. She had never tried a case as a lead attorney. The Senate confirmed her even though the American Bar Association gave her a rating of “not qualified.” This nominee should have been rejected by the Senate not because of her judicial philosophy and not because of her age, but because she simply didn’t have the credentials and experience to be a federal judge with lifetime tenure.]
According to a New York Times report last week, Biden and Senate Democrats are planning to pick up the speed of their judicial confirmations in a bid to counter Trump’s imprint on the courts.
With control of the Senate up for grabs in November, the coming months could be Biden’s last opportunity to make his own mark on the judiciary — and to add young, liberal jurists who will be able to issue their own nationwide injunctions to block the actions of future Republican administrations.
Gabriel Fleisher, Wake Up to Politics, April 19, 2022
April 19, 2022
Voices4America Post Script. No masks required on Planes or Trains? The Trump appointee who ruled this had been practicing law for only 8 years and never tried a case as a lead attorney, when she was confirmed for a Life appointment even though the American Bar Association gave her a rating of “not qualified.” #TrumpFiasco