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On April 18, 2022, in Health Freedom Defense Fund, Inc. v. Biden, United States District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle vacated the mask mandate issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Following a framework laid out in other decisions restricting CDC actions in response to COVID-19, the court found that the agency lacked statutory authority to protect the public from the virus by requiring mask wearing during travel and at transit hubs because Congress did not intend such a broad grant of power. Countering decades of public health jurisprudence, the federal district court failed to defer to experts and prioritized individual liberties over population health. When considered alongside the Supreme Court’s recent focus on the major questions doctrine, this lower court’s redefinition of the term “sanitation” away from the meaning it has long held under federal and state jurisprudence and in the public health field is a big step towards reducing the administrative state’s control over public health. While not binding on the states, this decision creates a path for state courts to follow when restricting actions taken by public health agencies, allowing judicially-mandated individualism to spread and courts to gain power as they narrow the boundaries of administrative discretion.

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Rutgers University Law Review