A federal judge on Sunday halted Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on requiring proof of a COVID-19 vaccination before boarding a cruise in a legal battle brought by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.
U.S. District Judge Kathleen M. Williams, an Obama appointee, issued a temporary injunction, saying that Florida’s law prohibiting businesses from requiring proof of vaccination for patrons likely runs afoul of the First Amendment.
“The statute is a content-based restriction because it singles out documentation regarding a particular subset matter … and subjects it to restrictions … that do not apply to documents regarding other topics,” Judge Williams wrote in her order.
The judge cited the growing number of COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant across the country — and especially in Florida — as a concern for cruises attempting to set sail after being shut down last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Norwegian Cruise Line sued to upend Florida’s ban on requiring vaccine passports before passengers can travel safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic last month.
Mr. DeSantis signed the legislation earlier this year barring companies from asking customers if they have received the COVID-19 vaccine, and it went into effect July 1.
Companies that violate the law can be subject to a $5,000 fine per customer.
A “vaccine passport,” which conservatives have widely opposed, is some sort of proof that a passenger or customer has been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
A spokesperson for Mr. DeSantis’ office said the governor will appeal the ruling.
“We disagree with the judge’s legal reasoning and will be appealing to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. 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 spokesperson said.
Norwegian Cruise Line said in a statement that it was “pleased” with the judge’s decision.
“This order will now allow the Company to operate in the safest way possible with 100% vaccination of all guests and crew when sailing from Florida ports. Nothing takes priority over the health and safety of the Company’s guests, crew and the communities visited and our commitment to them is paramount,” the statement read.
The first Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings cruise out of Florida is scheduled for Aug. 15 out of Miami.