On April 20th, 2022, TSA stopped enforcement of its travel mask mandate after a federal district court decided the CDC’s similar mandate was unlawfully issued. But, TSA has never publicly, formally rescinded its mandate, and so it could be immediately reinstated whenever the next strain or virus crosses some arbitrary threshold. I asked attorneys for TSA to indicate whether rescission was forthcoming, and they refused to answer (which, to me, is a pretty clear answer).
So, I’ve asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit allowing TSA authority to regulate anything that affects the “operational viability” of the transportation system. TSA’s mandate from Congress is security, not “operational viability,” a term which to me would include basically anything: the price of jet fuel, the hours pilots are allowed to work, the routes which airlines are allowed to fly… what doesn’t affect “operational viability?”
The Supreme Court (at least of recent) has been clear that agencies may not deviate from the normal boundaries of their authority based on creative interpretation of their enabling statutes. In the last year, OSHA was prevented from issuing vaccination mandates because corona is not an “occupational” hazard, the CDC was not allowed to maintain an eviction moratorium because housing is far from disease control, and the EPA was prevented from forcing power plants to switch from coal because the law gave them powers to set standards for coal, not eliminate it. Regardless of whether you agree with these decisions, and regardless of whether you agree that a mask mandate is a “good idea,” it clearly follows that TSA should be prevented from issuing mandates on communicable diseases when their mandate was to stop terrorism.
My case was assigned number 22-33, and the high court will be able to hear it, refuse it, ask the government to weigh in, or immediately send it back to the D.C. Circuit for further consideration. This was my first petition for certiorari as an attorney after having been admitted to the court’s Bar last month, and shockingly only the tenth time anyone has ever asked the court to hear a TSA-related case (3 of the other 9 were also mine over the last decade). Interestingly, filing is actually made more difficult when you’re an attorney: in addition to still needing to send in 40 paper copies in funny booklet format and pay by old-school check, you also need to submit the documents electronically through a buggy and, frankly, insecure-seeming custom platform.
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