Republican Lawmakers Sue CDC to End Airplane Mask Mandate

Mask Mandate CDC Republican Lawsuit Airplanes TSA
A group of 17 Republican lawmakers sued the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday to stop what they called an "illegal mask mandate" for air travel. Above, a sign declaring mandatory face masks in an airport terminal is pictured in this undated file photo. No-Mad/Getty

Republican lawmakers have sued the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to force an end to the requirement that face masks be worn on airplanes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, a group of 16 House members led by Representative Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and joined by Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) filed a lawsuit to end what they described as an "illegal mask mandate for individuals traveling on commercial airlines."

The lawsuit argues that Congress did not approve the mandate and that the CDC did not have the "authority" to issue it. The requirement was extended through April 18 by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) following a CDC recommendation last week and also applies to trains, buses and transit hubs.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not have the legal authority to force people traveling on commercial airlines to wear masks," Massie said in a statement. "Congress never passed a law requiring masks on commercial flights."

"This lawsuit targets the faceless bureaucrats who are behind the CDC's unscientific regulation so that this illegal mask mandate can be brought to a permanent end," he continued.

A statement from Paul boasted that the senator had been "leading the charge in the Senate to end these unscientific, unconstitutional mask mandates" before asserting that he was "proud to continue the fight by joining Rep. Massie on this effort."

"In honor of the TWO-YEAR ANNIVERSARY of 15 Days To Slow The Spread, I've joined 16 of my colleagues in suing the CDC to END the mask mandate on airplanes," tweeted Representative Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), one of the other Republicans to join the suit. "It should be a personal choice, not an unscientific mandate!"

The TSA said that, during the one-month mandate extension, the CDC would be working with "government agencies" to formulate "a revised policy framework for when, and under what circumstances, masks should be required in the public transportation corridor."

The new framework will be based on COVID-19 community transmission levels, the threat of any emerging virus variants, and "the latest science." The decision to extend the mandate received criticism due to transmission levels already significantly dropping following the recent Omicron variant-fueled surge.

A group of 90 Republican members of Congress wrote a letter to the TSA last week urging it to "follow the science" by dropping the mandate and allowing "Americans to return to normalcy."

The GOP lawmakers argued that "eliminating the mask mandate will provide a safer travel experience for everyone involved" because it would reduce the number of "unruly passengers" lashing out when being asked to follow the rule.

On its website, the CDC cites at least 18 different studies to support the conclusion that mask wearing reduces the spread of COVID-19, although not necessarily specifically involving air travel.

Dr. Graham Snyder, medical director of infection prevention at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told the Associated Press that the extension was sensible for airplanes, trains and buses because "they are designed to efficiently put a lot of people in one place" and present an increased risk transmission.

Last week, a judge threw out a lawsuit that Massie, along with Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), had filed against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) over a House mask mandate and its related fines.

Newsweek reached out to the CDC for comment.