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Happy Valley Dr. Ryan Hassan: Judges are ruthlessly enforcing their own agendas, to the detriment of American civil liberties.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said it would need 15 days to see whether the recent rise in COVID-19 cases across the country would be likely to lead to increases in hospitalizations and deaths, before deciding whether it would be safe to end the federal mask mandate on public transit.

Unfortunately, rather than wait 15 days, Florida federal judge Kathryn Mizelle ruled on April 18 that the mask mandate was unlawful, and terminated it. This decision was ostensibly based on an arbitrary and nonsensical legal argument, but, of course, the actual basis for it was political ideology.

Mizelle claimed that the CDC was exceeding its authority in mandating masks, and goes on for several pages of performative legal formalism justifying the claim that the statute that says, "the CDC … is authorized to make and enforce such regulations as … are necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases," does not allow it to require wearing masks.Dr. Ryan Hassan

Many Americans have bought into the belief that the law represents some sort of objective truth that judges merely divine through interpretation. As such, much of the discussion about this ruling, especially by ostensible "legal experts," focuses on whether or not Mizelle's legal formalism is accurate, and provides either supporting or contradictory legal arguments in response. This type of thinking is what led some "legal experts" to claim that Mizelle does not understand public health law.

The reality, though, is that laws have no inherent meaning beyond that which the courts give them. Judges use the contrivances of "textualism" and "originalism" to give a facade of objectivity and legitimacy to their rulings, but a closer look quickly reveals that the only consistency in judicial rulings, especially from Federalist Society judges like Mizelle, is ideology. Supreme Court justices have used these meaningless frameworks to argue that holding signs saying "bong hits for Jesus" is not protected speech under the First Amendment, but billions of dollars of corporate spending to buy political elections is. The same legislators that are supporting Mizelle's decision as a "pushback against government overreach" have spent the last year passing some of the most overreaching regulations in decades, including measures restricting access to health care and dismantling the right to vote, and Florida's own "Don't Say Gay" bill that restricts discussion of gender identity in schools.

Many will argue that this is an issue of federal versus state power, or the difference between legislation passed by elected officials and regulations enforced by the administrative state (i.e. departments of the executive branch like the CDC). But this is only more distraction designed to obscure the fact that the judiciary branch is a political branch of government that is becoming increasingly dominated by Federalist Society judges advancing the conservative legal movement's agenda. The law is a malleable tool used to shape society, and Federalist Society judges like Mizelle understand this perfectly, using it ruthlessly to enforce their own agendas to the detriment of American civil liberties.

Dr. Ryan Hassan is a pediatrician practicing in Happy Valley.


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