In a far reaching decision, a District Court in Florida ruled today that President Biden did not have the statutory authority to issue his mask mandate for all travelers nationwide. In doing so, the Court claimed that its ruling had to include an immediate injunction against the nationwide enforcement of the mandate. In other words, its ruling does not just apply to the specific case arising between these plaintiffs who object to the mandate and the government that seeks to enforce it. As the reasoning in the case itself shows, it would have been conceivable for the District Court to limits ruling to the parties in this case. Instead, the Court claims that relief requires a complete injunction against the continued enforcement of the rule. Justifying this far-reaching order, the Court writes: “The difficulty of distinguishing the named Plaintiffs from millions of other travelers–both for government actors and myriad of private companies, individuals, and local governments bound to enforce the Mandate with ‘best efforts’–almost ensures that a limited remedy would be no remedy at all. How is the ride-sharing driver, flight attendant, or bus driver to know someone is a Plaintiff to this lawsuit with permission to enter mask-free?”
So, on the basis of what seems to me an exceedingly strained argument for the need in this particular case for a widespread injunction, this single District Court proceeds to strike down the mask mandates for travelers nationwide. Policies regarding mask mandates for the nation have been changed by one judge in one district court in Florida.
To the extent that anti-maskers will view this case as a victory, it strikes me as more problematic than they will admit. Much of their objection to the mask policies arises from the fact that they have been implemented by un-elected bureaucrats in federal agencies. The so-called “deep state” operates independently of elected officials. In fact, the decision itself points to this objection. So-called experts have interpreted the existing law in a way that supports what they want to do regardless of what the lawmakers might have wanted when they passed the law. The Court found that the agencies lacked statutory power to enforce the Mandate.
So, to rectify this problem of the lack of democratic accountability, one judge in one district court has just made new policy for the nation as a whole. This surely raises again the problem of democratic accountability. This judge isn’t dependent for his power on the people in his District, much less the people in the nation as a whole. To rectify the problem of un-elected bureaucrats making policy, we have un-elected judges doing so instead.
2 thoughts on “The District Court’s Nationwide Injunction Against Mask Mandates”
Actually, the judge is merely punting the problem over to the Congress to clarify the statute under which the agency is acting. We rely upon “unelected” judges to prevent the over-reach of the Executive Branch when they have exceeded the authority granted within the statute. Unelected judges should have more deference than unelected bureaucrats. Using this statute to rely upon an agency to enforce a mask mandate is lazy and dangerous. Biden could have inserted that authority in his Infrastructure Bill last year, but chose not to. Ask the President would say — “C’mon!” These court cases arise because Congress is not thorough when drafting legislation, or the Executive Branch tries to implement its favored policy by using a contorted interpretation of a statute to get its way. I think it’s a healthy development to see the Courts reigning in this authoritarian tendency of the Executive Branch.