Norwegian Cruise Line sues Florida over ban on COVID-19 vaccine passports

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Norwegian Cruise Line has sued to upend Florida’s ban on requiring vaccine passports before passengers can travel safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a federal court filing last week, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which is based in Miami, charges that the state’s law runs afoul of federal requirements and violates the First Amendment rights of the company, which is scheduled to begin passenger cruises again on Aug. 15 after having shut down last year due to the pandemic.

The company has asked the court to hold the Florida law unconstitutional.

“Florida lacks a sufficiently important interest in banning NCLH from requiring passengers to provide vaccine documentation,” the lawsuit reads.

“The risk of transmission of COVID-19 among the unvaccinated in the close quarters of cruise ships coupled with the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and in reducing the deaths caused by COVID-10 makes transmission of information about COVID-19 vaccines a matter of life and death,” the complaint added.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the legislation barring companies from asking customers if they have received the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year, 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.

The case was assigned to Judge Kathleen M. Williams, an Obama appointee, for the Southern District of Florida.

Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees is the named defendant in the case. He’s expected to file a brief responding to the cruise line’s lawsuit this month.

A spokesperson from the Florida attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Christina Pushaw, press secretary for Mr. DeSantis’ office, called the lawsuit “meritless.” She said Norwegian Cruise Line is “discriminating against children and other individuals who cannot be vaccinated or who have opted not to be vaccinated for reasons of health, religion, or conscience.” 

“Every other industry in Florida has safely reopened while still respecting the right of every Floridian to make their own medical choice when it comes to vaccinations. At present, approximately 60% of eligible Floridians have been vaccinated against COVID-19, which means Norwegian is purposefully excluding 40% of Florida’s residents from the people it is willing to serve,” Ms. Pushaw said.

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