As the Biden administration contemplates its options in the wake of a judge’s ruling ending mask mandates for federally-regulated travel, a new poll shows that a majority of Americans would likely have supported keeping masking rules in place, at least through May.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently extended a mask mandate on travel — including on buses, trains and planes — until May 3. But a ruling earlier this week from Florida U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle abruptly ended those rules, finding them unconstitutional and inconsistent with the laws defining the regulatory powers of the CDC.
In response to the ruling, several major airlines have already relaxed their rules on masking, making mask-wearing optional for passengers. However, many legal experts have questioned the soundness of the arguments Mizelle made in her ruling, pointing out that the judge took statutory terminology out of context when she made her decision. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has said that it will soon decide whether to appeal Mizelle’s ruling to a higher court.
That decision will rest on the CDC’s opinion on whether masking rules are needed, the Justice Department said. In other words, if the CDC thinks the mandate can be allowed to expire — if it believes, for example, that it’s close enough to the original May 3 deadline, and that there wasn’t a high likelihood it would have needed to issue another extension — the DOJ may not appeal the decision at all.
However, not seeking an appeal could create a dangerous precedent for how the U.S. can react to future pandemics, based on the unusual interpretation Mizelle made in her ruling.
Recent polling shows that a majority of Americans support keeping mask mandates for travel in place.
A Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted just before Mizelle’s ruling was issued asked respondents to give their opinion on the CDC’s decision to extend the mask mandate for travel to May 3. Close to 6 in 10 Americans (59 percent) said they backed that decision, while only 32 percent said they opposed it.
In a separate question on the subject, 49 percent of respondents said that it was “too early” to end any rules on masks for travel — outweighing the combined 43 percent of respondents who said it’s the right time to end the mandate, that the mandate should have already ended, or that it never should have been in place to begin with.
Many are clamoring for the Biden administration to appeal Mizelle’s ruling, particularly due to the way she was appointed to her position. An appointee of former President Donald Trump, Mizelle was deemed “not qualified” by the American Bar Association for her lack of experience, but was approved by the then-Republican-controlled Senate to her post. While she has clerked for several judges, Mizelle has never actually held a judgeship herself, much less even argued a case on her own. (Mizelle’s only trial experience, prior to becoming a judge, was as an intern.)
Her decision to end the mask mandate for travel comes as the coronavirus pandemic — particularly the BA.2 subvariant — continues to pose a threat to the U.S. and the world. More than 400 individuals in the country are dying each day, on average, and with recorded COVID cases increasing by 47 percent over the past two weeks, that number is likely to go up.
Nearly 990,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 so far since the start of the pandemic, with more than 80 million cases recorded since March of 2020.
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