Biden administration may appeal ruling that voided travel mask mandate

US officials face legal and political quandary: whether to let judge’s ruling stand or to fight it

The Biden administration announced Tuesday that it intends to appeal a Florida judge’s ruling that struck down a federal mask requirement on airplanes, trains, buses and other public transportation – but only if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)decides that extending the measure is necessary.

The announcement from the US department of justice came after a day of back and forth inside the White House, as administration officials faced a legal and political quandary: whether to let the judge's ruling stand or to fight it, knowing that an appeal could result in a higher court, perhaps the US supreme court, ruling against the administration and setting a lasting precedent that could undercut the CDC's authority.

In the end the administration charted a careful course, publicly objecting to Monday’s ruling but putting off a final decision about whether to contest it. The US justice department and the CDC “disagree with the district court’s decision and will appeal, subject to CDC’s conclusion that the order remains necessary for public health”, the department said in a statement.

The mask mandate – which also applied to transportation hubs like airports and train stations, and even to ride-sharing services like Uber – had been set to expire May 3rd even before the judge struck it down Monday. If the CDC decides there is a public health basis for trying to reinstate and extend the mandate, the US justice department will swiftly file an appeal. But if the CDC decides otherwise, the administration will not appeal and the case will instead end as mooted – but without any signal of executive branch acquiescence to the judge’s view of its authority.

The US justice department “continues to believe that the order requiring masking in the transportation corridor is a valid exercise of the authority Congress has given CDC to protect the public health”, its statement said. “That is an important authority the department will continue to work to preserve.”

The CDC imposed the mandate in early 2021, at the direction of the president. The agency had already extended it several times, most recently last Wednesday. At the time it said it wanted to keep the requirement in place several more weeks while it assessed the potential severity of the omicron subvariant known as BA 2, which recently became the dominant version among new US cases.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.