INDIANAPOLIS — A federal judge on Monday overturned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's federal transportation mask mandate, which requires masks on airplanes, trains and public transportation.
Hours later, the Transportation Security Administration released a statement saying it would no longer enforce mask mandates.
The decision striking down the mask mandate comes just two weeks before the mandate was set to expire. The U.S. District judge in Florida ruled the mandate is unlawful, exceeding the authority of the CDC.
Soon after, the White House press secretary called the ruling disappointing, saying the CDC is reviewing the decision.
The Department of Justice hasn't yet said if it will appeal.
The four largest airlines, Delta, United, American and Southwest, all dropped their mask mandates shortly after the federal judge's ruling came down.
Still, a lengthy legal battle may be ahead. And that uncertainty is leaving many travelers confused on if they need to mask up moving forward.
Travelers flying into Indianapolis International Airport on Monday said it was masks on as usual on their flights.
"Everybody was following the mask rule. No problems, no trouble or anything like that on the flight," said Ray Ruiz of Houston.
“Yeah, you have to have your mask on, but you can take it down to eat, drink, do whatever. So it’s actually fine. It didn’t really bother me that much. I don’t think it bothered anyone else on the plane,” said Fynn Sternagel, who was flying in from Nashville on his way back to Purdue.
Throughout the airport Monday afternoon, mask requirement signs were up and in place and travelers kept their faces covered in the hours soon after the ruling.
Steve Sanders, a law professor at IU's Maurer School of Law, said in this case, the judge's ruling considered whether the mask mandate was within the powers that Congress gave the CDC.
"Whether when you're facing an emergency situation, whether we should read the technical words of laws as broadly as possible to empower government, rather than as narrowly as possible to restrict the power and authority of government," Sanders said. "What you saw in this decision today, I think, is an example of the latter kind of reasoning reading a federal regulation very narrowly in a very demanding way to say that a mask mandate doesn’t fit within the authority that this agency had when it was created by Congress."
The federal transportation mask mandate may remain "on again, off again" in the coming days to weeks as the issue plays out in the courts, according to Sanders. While the mask mandate was set to expire May 3, Sanders said he believes the Biden administration would likely appeal that so that they can bring back a mask mandate down the road if need be or simply to give future leaders a more clear precedent for dealing with national emergencies moving forward.
"As of this moment, it appears to be void, according to that judge. Now, what will happen probably is that the federal government, the Biden administration's lawyers, will in the next day or two ask the judge to put her ruling on hold so that the status quo, that is the mandate, can continue while that decision is appealed," Sanders said.
That's leaving many travelers uncertain on if they'll be required to mask up or simply choosing for themselves moving forward.
"Me personally, I would like to have mine on and I did," Ruiz said.
"All I hope is that it goes away so that everything can go back to being as it once was before this whole mess started," Sternagel said.
13News reached out to the Indianapolis International Airport about the ruling.
"We’re in contact with our federal partners and awaiting their direction on changes to the requirements for masks in the national aviation transportation system, including IND," the airport wrote in a statement.
The federal judge's ruling striking down the federal transportation mask mandate applies to all public transportation, including buses.
Early Tuesday morning, IndyGo announced that it has lifted its mask requirement, sending 13News this statement:
“Due to Monday’s court ruling and under the guidance of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), IndyGo has lifted the federal transportation mask mandate. Effective immediately, those riding with IndyGo or visiting IndyGo properties are no longer required to wear a mask. Those who wish to wear a mask may continue to do so."