Ron DeSantis Loses Battle With Florida Cruise Line Over Vaccine Passports

A federal judge has ruled in favor of Norwegian Cruise Line's challenge to a law signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis banning cruise companies from requiring proof of COVID vaccines to board ships in the state.

On Friday, Norwegian Cruise Line asked Judge Kathleen Williams to block the ban of requiring written proof of a COVID vaccine in Florida, arguing that it jeopardized the health and safety of crew members and was in breach of the First Amendment's right to free speech.

In early May, DeSantis signed a bill into law prohibiting any business operating in the state from requiring proof of COVID vaccination, citing "personal choice" for its citizens.

However, Florida has since seen a dramatic rise in cases and hospitalizations from the virus, with the state recording record-breaking figures multiple times over the past two weeks.

"It's scary what is happening in Florida. Florida is a hotspot," Norwegian attorney Derek Shaffer told the judge during a remote hearing on Friday, referencing the record-breaking COVID case numbers. "All we're doing is trying to protect our staff and passengers."

Williams ruled in favor of the cruise line on Sunday, granting Norwegian a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of the state's vaccine passport ban that will allow the company to require written proof of vaccination when it sets sail from Florida next weekend.

"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," a spokesperson for Norwegian told ABC affiliate WFTV on Sunday.

"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 Company's first sailing from Florida is scheduled on August 15, 2021 on Norwegian Gem departing from Miami."

In a statement to Newsweek, DeSantis' office said: "We disagree with the judge's legal reasoning and will be appealing to the Eleventh 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."

Williams' ruling is the latest blow to DeSantis, after several school districts in the state announced they would enforce the use of face masks in schools despite the governor issuing an executive order last week threatening funding to facilities that defied the ban on mandates.

The pushback against the relaxation of COVID policies in Florida has come as the state battles record-breaking figures due to the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

The most recent figures for the state showed that Florida once again broke its record for the number of hospitalizations from COVID on Friday, with 13,747 in medical facilities and 2,750 patients in intensive care.

The state also saw 93 people die from COVID on Friday, down from 199 the day before, while 43 percent of the state's ICU beds were taken up by COVID patients, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services/

Florida 23,903 new COVID cases as of Friday, according to data released on Saturday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breaking Thursday's record of 22,783 new positive tests.

Newsweek has contacted Norwegian Cruise Line and DeSantis' office for comment.

Norwegian Cruise Line in Florida
Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Sun cruise ship is docked at the Port of Jacksonville amid the Coronavirus outbreak on March 27, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida. A federal judge has ruled in favor of Norwegian Cruise Line’s challenge to a law signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in May that banned cruise companies from requiring proof of COVID vaccines to board ships Getty Images/Sam Greenwood