Efforts to reach the group for comment on Monday were not immediately successful. But Judge Mizelle largely accepted its arguments, ruling that the agency had exceeded the authority Congress granted to it to prescribe public health measures like “sanitization,” saying that power was limited to cleaning property — not requiring people to take hygienic steps.
“If Congress intended this definition, the power bestowed on the C.D.C. would be breathtaking,” she wrote. “And it certainly would not be limited to modest measures of ‘sanitation’ like masks.”
If the government’s interpretation of the agency’s powers were accurate, she added, the C.D.C. could require businesses to install air filtration systems, mandate that people take vaccines, or even require “coughing-into-elbows, and daily multivitamins.”
President Donald J. Trump appointed Judge Mizelle to the bench in November 2021, after he had lost re-election. A former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, she was 33 years old at the time, making her the youngest person Mr. Trump appointed to a life-tenured judgeship; the American Bar Association declared her not qualified because of her lack of experience, but she was confirmed on a party-line vote.
Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, said that the Biden administration would have to appeal the decision if it wanted the mandate to continue. He also defended the agency’s authority to issue the mask requirement.
“This is, in my view, an example of partisan judge that seems to be willfully ignorant of the law,” he said. “If there were ever an instance where the C.D.C. has authority to act, the classic case is to prevent the interstate transmission of a dangerous infectious disease.”
Judge Mizelle also faulted the agency for issuing the mandate under “emergency” procedures without delaying for public comment about the proposal — rejecting the idea that there was no time for that since the pandemic was then already a year old.