Judge grants Norwegian Cruise Line’s wish to require covid vaccination for passengers in Florida

Cruise Ship Entrance from Miami Port – Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by Mia2you

A federal judge has ruled that Norwegian Cruise Line can now make it a requirement for passengers to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination before boarding any of its ships. This is a blow to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ law that prohibited vaccine passports from being utilized in the state.

The almost sixty-page preliminary ruling from U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams in the Southern District of Florida wrote that the state law preventing the use of vaccine passports “jeopardizes public health and is most likely unconstitutional under the First Amendment.”

The judge ruled that Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, whom Norwegian filed a lawsuit against due to the vaccine passport ban, cannot enforce the law with the cruise line. This gives Norwegian the O.K. to begin utilizing its safety measures when the company plans to resume sailing cruises from Florida on Aug. 15.

In May, DeSantis signed legislation that prohibited vaccine passports in Florida.

Norwegian was more than content with the ruling, releasing a statement on Sunday stating that “allowing vaccinated guests onboard is the safest vacation experience to resume sailing.”

“The public health environment continues to evolve around the globe and our robust science-backed health and safety protocols, with vaccines at its cornerstone, allow us to provide what we believe is the safest vacation experience for people who long to get back to their everyday lives and explore the world once again,” Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, said in a statement.

DeSantis’ office did not agree with the judge’s legal reasoning, challenging that banning vaccine passports does not violate speech rights.

“A prohibition on vaccine passports does not even implicate, let alone violate, anyone’s speech rights, and it furthers the substantial, local interest of preventing discrimination among customers based on private health information,” DeSantis’ office said.

Rivkees was sued last month by the cruise line in an effort to cease Florida’s plan to prohibit businesses from using vaccine passports.

The company, headquartered in Miami, argued that Florida’s legislation against vaccine passports violated the First Amendment because of the communication block between customers and businesses.

The cruise line added that the law breached the 14th Amendment due to its limit on allowing the company to keep both customers and employees safe. 

Earlier this month, Norwegian called on a federal judge to block the law banning their requirement of vaccine passports.

The cruise line’s attorney, Derek Shaffer,  highlighted the spike in COVID-19 infections in Florida as an even bigger reason why NCL should be allowed to require proof of vaccination before boarding a ship.

“It’s scary what is happening in Florida. Florida is a hot spot,” Shaffer said, according to The Associated Press. “All we’re doing is trying to protect our staff and passengers.”

He stated that the law “should be fatal on arrival,” and added that DeSantis and others were supporting the ban to “score political points.”

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