By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court panel Thursday vacated an April 2022 ruling that had declared unlawful a government order requiring masks on airplanes and other transportation modes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Justice Department had asked 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to declare the issue moot after President Joe Biden ended the COVID-19 public health emergency in May.
“There is not a grain of evidence that the CDC has any plans to promulgate an identical mandate,” the court ruled.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had issued the sweeping mask mandate days after Biden took office in January 2021, requiring masks on airplanes, buses, trains, ride-sharing services and at airports and other transportation hubs to combat COVID.
In April 2022, a U.S. district judge ruled the CDC lacked legal authority to issue a nationwide travel mask mandate.
Judge Charles Wilson, who was appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton, said in the appeals court opinion that “while we think a legal degree confers many advantages, we do not believe it equips us to accurately predict if or when another global respiratory pandemic will infect our shared world.”
The plaintiffs who sued to overturn the mask mandate had urged the court not to dismiss the case. They included five individuals who did not want to wear masks on flights including a person diagnosed with anxiety. They argued vacating the opinion “would give CDC the ability to do this – or something like it – again while evading review in this court.”
In May, Biden revoked requirements that most international visitors to the U.S. be vaccinated against COVID, as well as similar rules for federal employees and contractors.
A report from U.S. lawmakers in October said the Trump administration in 2020 blocked the CDC from adopting a federal transportation mask mandate.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Jamie Freed)
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