A group of 13 flyers from Florida, eight other states, and the District of Columbia filed six lawsuits Tuesday, charging the Transportation Security Administration with exceeding its legal authority by continuing to extend a requirement that all public-transportation passengers don face masks.
The coordinated effort by a dozen disabled Americans and a former flight attendant who quit rather than enforce the Federal Transportation Mask Mandate used a special legal provision to file directly in six circuits of the U.S. Courts of Appeals.
At the direction of President Joseph Biden, TSA put the FTMM into effect Feb. 1. It was set to expire May 11, but got extended until Sept. 13. TSA then continued the requirement to Jan. 18, 2022. Petitioners ask the courts to declare the TSA orders illegal and unconstitutional to ensure they can never be extended again.
“TSA’s function is limited by law to address security threats. Congress has never given the agency power to regulate the public health and welfare,” the petitioners argue. “Wearing face masks has nothing whatsoever to do with transportation security.”
Petitions for review of TSA’s mask mandate were filed in the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta (which includes Florida); 2nd Circuit in New York; 4th Circuit in Richmond, Virginia; 5th Circuit in New Orleans; 6th Circuit in Cincinnati; and 8th Circuit in St. Louis.
Michael Seklecki of Sanford has a 4-year-old autistic son who needs to fly to Massachusetts for specialized medical care. Seklecki can’t wear a mask because of his anxiety disorder. Covering his face makes it very uncomfortable for him to breathe. His son, identified in court papers by his initials M.S., also can’t tolerate having his breathing blocked.
“Because of the FTMM, airlines have given Mr. Seklecki and his son a hard time about getting mask exemptions, almost making them miss flights that would cause harm to M.S.’s medical care,” according to the 11th Circuit petition. “This is despite M.S.’s mask-exemption form signed by a licensed pediatrician.”
Leonardo McDonnell of Melbourne has been banned from riding Space Coast Transit vehicles because of his inability to mask due to several medical conditions. He has also suffered harassment several times when flying Delta Air Lines without a face covering, including one flight where the attendants constantly berated him for not muzzling even though he has a written mask exemption.
“In a society that preaches mental-health awareness, individuals with cognitive disabilities have been isolated and discriminated against in horrific fashion,” McDonnel said. “Those of us with mental-health disorders and respiratory conditions that make it difficult to wear a mask have been shunned because of the TSA mask mandate. We must have our right to travel restored.”
The group of petitioners also includes a Washington, D.C., man TSA refused to let through its checkpoint June 2 at Orlando International Airport; a New York City businessman who has had to drive more than 25,000 miles during the pandemic because airlines won’t let him fly; a Missouri veteran who was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight for not masking; an Ohio couple who has been unable to use public transportation because of their health problems; and an Allegiant Air flight attendant from North Carolina who quit over moral objections to forcing passengers to obstruct their breathing.
The FTMM represents the greatest systemic discrimination against the disabled since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990. Petitioners argue TSA’s mandate violates not only the ADA but also the Air Carrier Access Act; Rehabilitation Act; Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act; their constitutional right to travel; and other federal laws and international treaties.
By regulating intrastate transportation and commandeering state employees to enforce the mask mandate, TSA’s orders also violate the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, according to the petitions.
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