Masks are a simple, low cost way to limit spread of the novel coronavirus. It’s a shame that government leaders from Dr. Anthony Fauci, to the Surgeon General, to the CDC, lied about masks at the start of the pandemic so people wouldn’t go out and buy them, competing for scarce resources with government and hospitals.
We were told masks aren’t effective, so people didn’t wear them, which likely caused the virus to spread more than it would have. And when the studies came in on mask wearing, and experts changed their recommendations, people no longer trusted the experts. So we’re faced with mandates and threats over masks – when they’re a simple measure people can take to preserve their freedom to go out, to transact business, and not face government lock downs.
House Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) wrote to the TSA Administrator this week demanding the agency require people wear masks when going through security checkpoints.
[I]t is difficult to understand your hesitation to issue a national requirement for passenger masks to ensure that all frontline workers and passengers are equally protected across the aviation system.
Furthermore, the chairman continues that “even if some members of the public balk at such an order, TSA is no stranger to asking people to submit to unpleasant experiences. In other words, since the TSA already engages in invasive pat downs, it’s a natural extension for them to tell people to do other things too.
The only controversy surrounding masks is a dangerous political one manufactured by President Trump and his enablers. There is a clear consensus among public health officials that masks are effective in curbing the spread of COVID-19,” they wrote. “TSA employees routinely enforce a number of requirements that are unpopular with the public, such as conducting invasive pat-downs and confiscating liquids, which you and your predecessors have deemed necessary to protect passengers.
The letter concludes that “a mask requirement is extremely important,” and it’s hard to disagree. The appropriate measure for members of Congress to take then is to pass such a requirement – there are four reasons why the TSA doing it on their own today would be illegal.
- The TSA’s mission is aviation security, protecting commercial airlines against terrorists. There’s nothing in statute that makes them a public health agency.
- Congress would have to give TSA the authority to mandate masks. The House, recognizing this, actually passed legislation that would have required “each passenger and cabin crew member to wear a mask or protective face covering while onboard an aircraft of the air carrier” until the national emergency declaration for COVID-19 expires. That’s not something that can be required without legislation, but the legislation died in the Senate.
- The Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee recognized the lack of authority for the TSA to impose temperature checks and the same argument applies, “I cannot find any law that gives TSA the authority to perform temperature checks” however the difference appears to be that masks are now an issue that the Democrat majority in the House can (justifiably) criticize the President and score political points. It’s the same Representative Bennie Thompson talking out of both sides of his mouth about TSA mandates.
- While TSA may have a history and penchant for making up rules for travelers seemingly on a whim, they’ve been required by courts to publish regulations outlining what screening processes are required, and those will have to comport with the agency’s statuatory mandate to protect air transportation from violent threats. The TSA is subject to the Administrative Procedures Act, passengers are ‘substantially affected’ by a mask rule, and the agency has not heard and considered comment on such a rule.
Airports can require masks in jurisdictions where local officials have required them, and likely as long as doing so doesn’t run afoul of local rules. The FAA has already stated that airlines will not violate any grant covenants if they do so.
And airlines can require that passengers wear masks, too. With Allegiant getting on board, every significant U.S. commercial airline does so.
But the TSA lacks the legal authority to require mask wearing, and any such requirement largely just duplicates the efforts of other mask requirements already in place.