Mean Judge Nixes Ron DeSantis's Plan To Make Covid Great Again On Cruise Ships

Thanks to a federal judge in Florida, the cruise industry does not have to commit suicide and kill off a bunch of its customers to satisfy GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis's presidential ambitions. So there's some happy Monday news.

Yesterday US District Court Judge Kathleen M. Williams blocked enforcement of DeSantis's law that would have barred Norwegian Cruise lines from requiring 95 percent of passengers to submit proof of vaccination before setting sail. Citing the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant, as well as general public fears of sailing on a ship full of unvaccinated passengers, the court found no compelling public interest in allowing the law to go into effect sufficient to counteract the monetary loss Norwegian will incur if patrons decide they'd rather not set sail on the Good Ship Typhoid Mary. Of course, multiple common ports of call won't allow Americans to disembark without proof of Covid vaccination, and some won't even allow the ships to dock at all, so the law would have excluded Norwegian from marketing cruises to the British Virgin Islands, among other desirable destinations.

Remember DeSantis whining "Where's my apology?" and flapping his arms like a beached manatee when Florida came through the first wave without mass death? (How's that one working out, Ron?) Well there's not going to be an apology for Norwegian if the company hosts a Diamond Princess-style outbreak because some nasty unvaccinated passengers decide to belt out the hits at karaoke night. There'll just be massive economic fallout for an industry that ground to a standstill over a year ago, and no means of suing Florida to recoup its losses because of sovereign immunity laws.

The court agreed with Norwegian's argument that the ban on demanding proof of vaccination violated the company's First Amendment rights, differentiating it from a purely economic regulation. Under an intermediate scrutiny standard the government would have to demonstrate a compelling interest in upholding the regulation and show that the statute meaningfully furthers that interest.

Florida argued the law was designed to protect the medical privacy of its citizens. Leaving aside the fact that proof of vaccination is required to attend public school (giving the lie to the theory that the state is worried about privacy in the vaccination status of its citizens), the state submitted no proof that blocking "vaccine passports" meaningfully protects passengers' medical privacy as compared to other cruise lines, which have handled DeSantis's bans in various other ways. If it's kosher for Norwegian's competitors to verbally ask passengers about their vaccination status, or to demand a negative Covid test before setting sail, or to make passengers who have not been vaccinated undergo multiple tests during the cruise, then those companies know exactly the same amount of medical information about passengers as they would have if they demanded proof of vaccination like Norwegian.

Judge Williams wrote: "Similarly, Section 381.00316 does not effectively protect the medical privacy of residents. The law is far too underinclusive to meaningfully advance this goal."

Or, in plain English, "vaccine passports" are a right wing bogeyman, and DeSantis went out of his way to ban them because he thought it would burnish his bona fides with Republican primary voters. But the law doesn't actually do shit, and so it's getting blocked.

Of course, those slippery fuckers at the Eleventh Circuit already put the kibosh on CDC guidance for cruise ships, because aPoLiTiCal cOuRts, so who knows, Williams's ruling might get overturned. (He is of course appealing.)

In summary and in conclusion, Ron DeSantis's plan to turn Covid into a culture war issue just slammed face first into the Delta variant. And now his state is a Covid hotspot, so, no, he's not getting a fucking apology.

And, no, goddammit, it's not a HIPAA violation either!

[Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings v. Rivkees, Docket via Court Listener]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.


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