Norwegian Cruise Line can require proof of Covid-19 vaccination in Florida, federal judge rules

Liz StarkUpdated 9th August 2021
The Norwegian Encore cruise ship off of Miami Beach last year.
(CNN) — Norwegian Cruise Line can require proof of Covid-19 vaccination for passengers and crew members, a federal judge ruled Sunday, after the cruise line operator had challenged Florida's ban on vaccine passports.
US District Judge Kathleen Williams granted Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings' request for a preliminary injunction to Florida's law that prohibits companies from requiring customers and employees to provide documentation of Covid-19 vaccination status.
The complaint, filed last month in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida, named Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees in his capacity as "the responsible state official."
In April, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order banning the use of Covid-19 passports in the state. The order prohibited any government entity from issuing vaccine passports, and blocks businesses from requiring any such documentation. State lawmakers passed legislation codifying the order and it was signed into law on May 3.
"In Florida, your personal choice regarding vaccinations will be protected and no business or government entity will be able to deny you services based on your decision," DeSantis said at the time.
DeSantis will appeal the decision, his office said in a statement.
"We disagree with the judge's legal reasoning and will be appealing to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals," the statement said. "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."
The cruise line lawsuit alleged the law violated its First Amendment rights as well as the Commerce Clause.
Representatives for the Florida surgeon general did not immediately respond to CNN requests for comment.
The lawsuit sets up a key showdown between state officials and business owners over the power of companies to mandate customers receive vaccines.
The travel operator said it plans to resume cruises on August 15, with the Norwegian Gem departing from Miami -- its first from Florida since the pandemic disrupted operations more than a year ago.
Frank Del Rio, Norwegian Cruise Line's president and chief executive officer, praised the judge's ruling in a statement Sunday.
"We want nothing more than to sail from Miami, the Cruise Capital of the World, and from the other fabulous Florida ports and we welcome today's ruling that allows us to sail with 100% fully vaccinated guests and crew, which we believe is the safest and most prudent way to resume cruise operations amid this global pandemic," he said.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. operates three cruise lines: Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.