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CDC mask mandate for travelers struck down by federal judge (US)

CDC mask mandate for travelers no longer in effect following judge's ruling, official says.

PHOTO: Stock
(CNN) A federal judge in Florida struck down on Monday the Biden administration’s mask mandate for airplanes and other public transport methods, and a Biden administration official says the order is no longer in effect while the ruling is reviewed.

(CNN) A federal judge in Florida struck down on Monday the Biden administration’s mask mandate for airplanes and other public transport methods, and a Biden administration official says the order is no longer in effect while the ruling is reviewed.

US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle said the mandate was unlawful because it exceeded the statutory authority of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and because its implementation violated administrative law.
“The agencies are reviewing the decision and assessing potential next steps,” the Biden administration official said Monday night. “In the meantime, today’s court decision means CDC’s public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time. Therefore, TSA will not enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs at this time. CDC recommends that people continue to wear masks in indoor public transportation settings.”
The developments added fresh confusion to masking policies nationwide, with several airlines and travel authorities quickly announcing Monday evening that masks are now optional. It is unclear if the Justice Department will seek an order halting the ruling and file an appeal.
Just last week, the CDC extended this mask mandate through May 3. The masking requirement applied to airplanes, trains and other forms of public transportation.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said Monday afternoon that it was a “disappointing” decision, and the Justice Department will make any determinations about a legal response.
Confusion in wake of ruling

In the immediate wake of Mizelle’s ruling, Psaki told reporters that the White House wasn’t trying to “provoke uncertainty with passengers” by not providing an immediate response, but added that the administration continues to recommend that airline passengers continue to wear masks.

“So, we would say to anyone sitting out there — we recommend you wear masks on the airplane and … as soon as we can provide an update from here, hopefully soon, we’ll provide that to all of you,” she said.

Following the ruling, several US airlines — Delta, United and Southwest among them — said masks are now optional on their aircraft. In a statement, Alaska Airlines said that passengers whose behavior was “particularly egregious” over the past two years in objecting to the mandate will remain banned from flying on the airline, “even after the mask policy is rescinded.”

Amtrak and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates DC’s Metro, also announced that they will no longer require masks for passengers and employees, though the state-owned and operated NJ Transit and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority will keep their requirements.

A Biden administration official familiar with the White House’s decision previously told CNN the goal of the extension was to gather more information and understanding of the BA.2 variant of the coronavirus. Covid-19 cases in the US are on the rise, leading universities and the City of Philadelphia to reimplement indoor mask mandates.
US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said last week that part of the reason for the extension of the transportation mask mandate was because of rising Covid-19 cases and settings created by travel.
“We bring a lot of people together in a closed setting for a prolonged period of time, and not everyone has the option to not travel,” Murthy said on SiriusXM’s Doctor Radio’s Doctor Radio Reports, giving examples such as traveling on a plane to see a sick mother or traveling for work to keep a job. “Because it’s not necessarily an optional setting for people and because, again, folks are together for a long period of time, that’s why the CDC has leaned into being cautious there and recommending that people continue to wear those masks.”
Judge compares enforcement to ‘detention and quarantine’

The first part of the judge’s 59-page ruling turned on the meaning of the word “sanitation,” as it functions in the 1944 statute that gives the federal government the authority — in its efforts to combat communicable diseases — to issue regulations concerning “sanitation.”
Mizelle concluded that that the use of the word in the statute was limited to “measures that clean something.”

“Wearing a mask cleans nothing,” she wrote. “At most, it traps virus droplets. But it neither ‘sanitizes’ the person wearing the mask nor ‘sanitizes’ the conveyance.”
She wrote that the mandate fell outside of the law because “the CDC required mask wearing as a measure to keep something clean — explaining that it limits the spread of COVID-19 through prevention, but never contending that it actively destroys or removes it.”
Mizelle suggested that the government’s implementation of the mandate — in which non-complying travelers are “forcibly removed from their airplane seats, denied board at the bus steps, and turned away at the train station doors” — was akin to “detention and quarantine,” which are not contemplated in the section of the law in question, she said.
“As a result, the Mask Mandate is best understood not as sanitation, but as an exercise of the CDC’s power to conditionally release individuals to travel despite concerns that they may spread a communicable disease (and to detain or partially quarantine those who refuse),” she wrote.
She added that the mandate also did not fit with a section of the law that would allow for detention of a traveler if he was, upon examination, found to infected.
“The Mask Mandate complies with neither of these subsections,” the judge said. “It applies to all travelers regardless of their origins or destinations and makes no attempt to sort based on their health.”
Mizelle added that, additionally, the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which dictates the procedures the federal government must follow when implementing certain agency policies.
The Biden administration erred in failing to seek public notice and comment on the policy, she wrote. She also ruled that the mandate violates that APA’s prohibitions on “arbitrary” and “capricious” agency actions because the CDC had failed to adequately explain its reasoning for implementing the policy.
Mizelle was appointed to the federal court in late 2020 by then-President Donald Trump.
Her confirmation in the days after the 2020 election was controversial and uniformly opposed by Democrats. A former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Mizelle was 33 at the time of her confirmation. She had been rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association for “the short time she has actually practiced law and her lack of meaningful trial experience.”

Previous lawsuits had failed

Other lawsuits that have been filed targeting the mandate — and the directive to enforce it by the Homeland Security Department’s Transportation Security Administration — have failed to succeed in blocking it.

According to a Justice Department filing submitted last week in a separate lawsuit against mandate the brought in Texas, “many other individuals have sought time-sensitive injunctive relief from the CDC or TSA orders that require masks during commercial air travel.”

“The Supreme Court has thrice rejected that relief, and so has every Court of Appeals to consider the issue — that is, the Fourth, Eighth, Eleventh, and D.C. Circuits — as well as the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida,” the Justice Department said in that case, referring to an earlier lawsuit brought in Florida’s Middle District. “No court has granted such relief, and not a single Judge or Justice has noted their dissent from any of these orders.”

Unlike those other cases where judges were weighing emergency or preliminary orders, Mizelle was considering the legality of the mandate on the merits.

Flight attendants union urges ‘calm’

In the wake of the ruling, the Association of Flight Attendants urged “calm and consistency in the airports and on planes.”

“We urge focus on clear communication so that Flight Attendants and other frontline workers are not subject to more violence created by uncertainty and confusion,” the union, which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants, said in a statement.

Republicans cheered the ruling, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis posting on Twitter that it was “Great to see a federal judge in Florida follow the law and reject the Biden transportation mask mandate.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, a top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said on Twitter that the ruling showed why his work on Trump judicial nominations was “so important to protect [individual] liberty” and “restraining [government] overreach.”

Democratic Sen. Ed Markey, meanwhile, tweeted that a “Trump-appointed judge is obstructing our pandemic response and putting the most vulnerable at risk.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Dave Alsup, Chandelis Duster, Maegan Vazquez, Pete Muntean and Shawna Mizelle contributed to this report.

Supreme Court of Canada

Supreme Court of Canada

The Supreme Court’s fourth annual review, disseminated on social media and posted on the court’s website, is part of Chief Justice Richard Wagner’s ongoing efforts, after he assumed the court’s leadership in December 2017, to make the court’s work more understandable and accessible to Canadians.

A well-received move in 2021 was the court’s pioneering decision to provide journalists, who sign strict confidentiality and embargo undertakings, with remote online access to selected particularly important or complex decisions for an hour and a half before the judgments are publicly released. The aim is to enable journalists to report quickly and accurately, once the judgment embargo is lifted, without having to be physically locked up beforehand in the close quarters of the media room of the Ottawa courthouse (the Supreme Court’s building was closed to “visitors” in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Supreme Court rolled out the first prejudgment remote lockup for journalists on March 25, 2021, the day the high court upheld the constitutionality of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act.

Ten days earlier, Chief Justice Wagner for the first time hoisted a newly created flag up the eastern flagpole in front of the Supreme Court’s imposing art deco building. The court’s new red, white and gold heraldic emblem features a royal Crown — signifying that Canada is a constitutional monarchy — along with nine maple leaves surrounded by a laurel, and undergirded by the court’s longtime motto “Justice and Truth” (in Latin).

The flag goes up each time the court is in session to hear an appeal (previously the court raised the Canadian flag). “These new emblems express the values of our institution: justice, independence, integrity, transparency and bilingualism,” Chief Justice Wagner told the public.

The Supreme Court’s Year in Review provides a brief description of “notable decisions” that year as well as a statistical profile of its work in 2021.

The numbers disclosed by the court reveal that 55 per cent of the cases heard by the court in 2021 involved criminal law (most were as-of-right appeals); 24 per cent were “public” law (including constitutional cases, and administrative law appeals involving, for example, tax, human rights or labour relations); and 21 per cent were cases involving disputes between individuals (for example in the areas of negligence, family law and contracts).

Of the 59 decisions rendered in 2021, 39 per cent were in criminal cases, 34 per cent were in public law cases and 27 per cent were in private law cases.

Close to half of the court’s hearings in 2021 were devoted to as-of-right cases. Of the 58 appeals heard in 2021, 26 were by-right appeals and 32 were by leave.

The nine judges’ decisions revealed more disagreement than agreement — with just 46 per cent of judgments featuring unanimous agreement on the results (down from the 49-per-cent unanimity rate the year before.)

Because of hearing delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, the average time-lapse between the court granting leave and argument on an appeal was 8.2 months — down from 8.6 months in 2020 (the first year of the pandemic), but up considerably from 6.3 months the year before.

At the same time, the court was speedy in deciding leave applications in 2021 — taking an average of 2.8 months, the fastest time in a decade. As occurred in 2020, the court received fewer leave applications in 2021, reflecting pandemic slowdowns in the lower courts: 473 leave applications, down from the average of 538 in the eight years preceding the pandemic.

In 2021, the court also took, on average, only about four months to render its decisions — its second-fastest turnaround in 10 years (however, this average turnaround time includes decisions rendered immediately from the bench, which made up a substantial portion of the court’s total output.)

The Supreme Court heard appeals on 58 days in 2021, up from 35 days in 2020.

Overall, the entire Supreme Court appeal process, starting from the date of filing a leave application through to judgment, took 15.2 months, on average, reduced more than two months from 17.4 months in 2020.

The 2021 Year in Review indicates that the Supreme Court decided 59 cases, of which 22 were bench judgments, and 37 were reserved decisions.

Cristin Schmitz at



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