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Covid mask policy rejected by yet another Trump-appointed judge

A Trump-appointed judge struck down a Covid-19 policy backed by public-health officials. This has now happened over and over and over again.


About a month after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created a mask mandate for travelers. As the pandemic continued, and the public dealt with Covid-19 variants, the CDC renewed the travel policy several times in the interest of public safety and preventing the spread of contagions.

As of yesterday afternoon, that policy is no more — not because public health officials decided it’s no longer necessary, but because a Republican-appointed judge in Florida decided to reject it. NBC News reported:

A federal judge Monday struck down the Biden administration’s mandate that masks be worn aboard planes, trains, buses and other public transportation, leading to an immediate change in policy for air travelers and many rail customers. U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle for the Middle District of Florida called the policy “unlawful” and ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had overstepped its legal authority by imposing the mandate in February 2021.

Soon after the district court ruling was issued, the White House said the “decision means CDC’s public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time.”

Part of what makes the developments so striking is the judicial context: The ruling is having a dramatic effect on travelers in the United States, but just as notable is the judge who issued the order.

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane. Donald Trump lost his re-election bid in early November 2020, but the Republicans continued to enjoy a majority in the Senate for another two months after the GOP president’s defeat. The party’s senators spent that time doing the one thing they knew exactly how to do: Republicans confirmed a bunch of conservative judicial nominees.

One of them was Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, a 33-year-old conservative at the time who’d never tried a case as an attorney. She had, however, clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and was a member of the Federalist Society. The American Bar Association deemed her “not qualified” for a lifetime position on the federal bench.

The outgoing GOP majority in the Senate didn’t care. Mizelle was confirmed with unanimous support from Senate Republicans. The nominee received zero Democratic votes.

Eighteen months later, Mizelle, without even hearing oral arguments, decided to derail a national policy about Covid-19 protections, indifferent to the judgments of public-health professionals.

If this dynamic sounds at all familiar, it’s not your imagination.

As we discussed a few months ago, it was in December when a Trump-appointed judge ruled against the White House’s vaccine policy for federal contractors. A week earlier, two Trump-appointed judges, in separate cases, ruled against the administration’s vaccine requirements for health care workers.

Soon after, a federal judge in Texas issued an injunction, blocking the Biden administration’s vaccine requirements for federal workers. As a practical matter, the move didn’t amount to much — 95 percent of the federal workforce had already complied with the policy — but it was nevertheless a highly dubious move from a district court.

The ruling came from Judge Jeffrey Brown, a Trump appointee who was confirmed with zero Democratic votes.

People for the American Way’s Elliot Mincberg published a report late last year, taking note of 15 cases from 2021 in which Trump-appointed judges “improperly delayed or stopped important and legal Biden initiatives.” Clearly, 2022 is shaping up to be no better.

A few years ago, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts told the Associated Press that it’s wrong to think about jurists through a partisan or presidential lens. “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said in a statement. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”

I have always wanted to believe this. Lately, that’s been awfully difficult.