Judge Who Dumped Mask Mandate Got One Term Wrong: Experts

Legal experts say she misinterpreted the word 'sanitation'
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 20, 2022 12:07 AM CDT
Updated Apr 20, 2022 7:05 AM CDT
Judge Misinterpreted One Term When Dumping Mask Mandate: Experts
Travelers sit in a waiting area at Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport in Providence, R.I., Tuesday, April 19, 2022.   (AP Photo/David Goldman)

(Newser) – As the feds consider appealing the judicial ruling that ended the mask mandate on public transportation, legal experts who spoke to NPR say the judge who issued the ruling misinterpreted the law. The portion of the Public Health Service Act that the Biden administration used to justify the mandate says that in attempting to stop the spread of communicable disease, the government may "provide for such inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation, pest extermination, destruction of animals or articles found to be so infected or contaminated as to be sources of dangerous infection to human beings, and other measures, as in his judgment may be necessary." The judge disagreed with the administration's view that masks qualify as "sanitation" under that law, but NPR's sources say she's wrong.

"It reads like someone who had decided the case and then tried to dress it up as legal reasoning without actually doing the legal reasoning," says one law professor who says she'd likely mark a student's answer as wrong if they gave that interpretation on an exam. She explains that the definition of "sanitation" used by the judge is not the definition used in public health or by the CDC, which issued the mandate. More coverage around the fall of the mandate:

  • Airlines couldn't drop it fast enough: The New York Times says airlines were more than ready to be rid of the mandate due to the tensions it caused between flight crews and belligerent, sometimes even violent, passengers. Some would-be passengers, however, say they're now anxious about flying. Read the full piece here.
  • But there is some concern: A union representing almost 50,000 flight attendants warns that there must be clear communication about the new rules, because inconsistent implementation could lead to even more violent incidents aboard planes, Newsweek reports. One concerned flight attendant aired similar concerns to Today, noting that now, crew members might be forced to run interference between masked passengers who don't want to sit next to unmasked ones.
  • There is also some glee: CNN has video of passengers throwing away their masks when the mandate was revoked mid-flight. USA Today talks to passengers who were on flights when the mandate was revoked, some of whom kept their masks on and some of whom took them off immediately. "I could breathe better," says one.
  • Should you be concerned? Fortune takes a look at the risks of being on a flight with unmasked passengers here.
  • One thing's for sure: If you're sick and must travel, you should still wear a mask, the leader of a flight attendants union says, per CNBC.
(Read more mask mandates stories.)

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