MIAMI, Fla. — The Eleventh Circuit of Appeals heard arguments over a federal mask mandate on Tuesday, Jan. 17.

After a Florida federal judge struck down a mask mandate for planes and other transportation last April, the CDC quickly countered by requesting an appeal through the Justice Department.

The appeal drew criticism from the U.S. Travel Association, which, along with other industry groups, had been pressuring the Biden administration for months to end the mask mandate for travel.

What You Need To Know

  • The court will decide whether to affirm the decision to strike down the mask mandate

  • Affirming the decision would keep things as is, though transportation operators would still be able to make their own decisions about mask requirements onboard

  • Opponents of a mandate say the CDC does not have the legal authority to enforce a mask mandate 
  • Proponents say the measure is justified to curb the spread of COVID-19

During Tuesday’s hearing, attorneys with the Biden administration argued the CDC is in a position where they must make public health decisions under quickly developing circumstances.

Under the Administrative Procedure Act, agencies like the CDC must provide the public notice and the ability to comment on a new rule — like a mask mandate.

Agencies can get around this if they prove “good cause” that compliance would be impractical.

However, the court questioned whether the existence of COVID-19 is enough to warrant “good cause.”

The defense rebutted that the circumstances around the pandemic are always quickly evolving, and a delay for public comment could take up valuable time.

The Health Freedom Defense Fund argues that the CDC has no legal authority to adopt a mask mandate.

Attorney Brant Hadway stated that the Public Service Act, which allows the CDC to enforce regulations that prevent the spread of disease through sanitation, has a broad interpretation of what people may consider as sanitation measures.

“When you accept the CDC’s interpretation, you open the door to the CDC mandating any manner of health interventions. What would prevent the CDC from turning around and mandating vaccinations?”​ said Hadaway.

Other proponents of the mandate, including the American Medical Association, state that a mask requirement on transportation is a reasonable way to curb the spread of COVID-19. They also argue that the CDC could end the mandate in the future given the right circumstances.

“I personally have had COVID twice. But I still feel that it should be my decision to protect myself, not somebody telling me what I have to do, or don’t have to do,” Amtrak rider, Elizabeth Dempster, said.

Following Tuesday’s hearing, the court will decide whether to affirm the decision to strike down the mask mandate. A judge will draft a written decision which may go through several rounds before a majority of the court agrees and the written decision is published, according to the American Bar Association.

Individual operators are currently still able to make their own decisions about mask enforcement.