Department of Justice Will Appeal Ruling Ending Mask Mandate if CDC Agrees

Shortly after the Biden administration announced it would "likely" appeal a Florida judge's ruling striking down the federal transportation mask mandate, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) formally said it would appeal the ruling only if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) deems it necessary.

On Monday, Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, ruled that the federal mask mandate on airplanes, trains and buses, was unlawful. In a statement following her decision to end the sweeping mandate, the DOJ disagreed with Mizelle, saying the CDC's federal mask order was "a valid exercise of the authority" granted by Congress.

"The Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disagree with the district court's decision and will appeal, subject to CDC's conclusion that the order remains necessary for public health," the DOJ said. "The Department continues to believe that the order requiring masking in the transportation corridor is a valid exercise of the authority Congress has given CDC to protect the public health. That is an important authority the Department will continue to work to preserve."

Before Mizelle's ruling, the CDC announced that it would be extending the transportation mask mandate, which was set to expire April 18, to May 3 to give the CDC time to evaluate hospitalizations and deaths.

The DOJ said that if the CDC concludes that a mandatory mask order remains necessary for the public's health after the assessment, the court will appeal.

Earlier Monday morning, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said an appeal may be forthcoming.

"We are right now in the process of deciding, and we likely will appeal that ruling. Stay tuned," Becerra said at a news conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki mirrored Becerra's statement during a press gaggle on Air Force One on Tuesday, saying a health assessment was underway.

Psaki was asked why the DOJ isn't appealing the ruling currently.

"Agencies are reviewing next steps, including the Department of Justice," she responded. "Traditionally, following court decisions, that can take a couple of days."

Psaki added that the Biden administration's decisions are based on the CDC's scientific suggestions. She noted that the CDC said it needed 15 days to assess the impact of the ruling, including possible upticks in positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations—which she said was a "reasonable" response.

"So, the CDC continues to advise and recommend masks on airplanes," Psaki said. "We're abiding by the CDC recommendations, the president is. And we would advise all Americans to do that."

Psaki took a jab at Mizelle's ruling, saying public health decisions should be made by public health experts, not by the courts.

She also added that it could take several days for the DOJ to challenge the ruling, but said she didn't want to "prejudge" what the court decides.

Psaki
After a Florida judge struck down the federal transportation mask mandate, the Biden administration announced that it will "likely" appeal the ruling. Getty Images

"This was a ruling by the court," Psaki said. "We obviously didn't have advance notice of it. And it typically takes a couple of days to assess next steps in these cases."

Mizelle decided that the CDC exceeded its authority with the two-week extension of the mask mandate.

"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," she wrote.

A domino-like effect took place afterward when major transportation companies announced they would no longer require passengers to wear masks.

Newsweek reached out to the DOJ for comment.