Gov. Ron DeSantis plans to fight to have cruise restrictions overturned (again)

click to enlarge Gov. Ron DeSantis plans to fight to have cruise restrictions overturned (again)
Screengrab via Twitter/Ron DeSantis

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday the state likely will ask a full federal appeals court to reimpose a preliminary injunction that would block restrictions on the cruise-ship industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

DeSantis made the comments after a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals late Saturday sided with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and issued a stay of the injunction, which was approved last month by a Tampa-based district judge.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, backed by DeSantis, filed the lawsuit in April, contending that the CDC had overstepped its legal authority in imposing the restrictions.

While U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday agreed with the state’s arguments in issuing the injunction, a three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based appeals court late Saturday put Merryday’s ruling on hold. The panel did not immediately explain its decision, but DeSantis said Monday the state likely will ask the full appeals court to lift the stay — a move known as seeking an “en banc” ruling.

“We are absolutely going to pursue getting the stay removed, either at the full 11th Circuit or at the U.S. Supreme Court. I think probably to the full 11th Circuit en banc,” DeSantis said during an appearance in Central Florida.

Unless removed, the stay would allow the CDC restrictions to remain in place at least until the appeals court rules on the underlying issues in the case. In asking the appeals court for the stay, CDC attorneys argued that the “preliminary injunction rests on errors of law and is a clear abuse of the district court’s discretion.”

“All of the cruise ships at issue here are foreign-flagged vessels that must stop at one or more foreign ports during each voyage,” U.S. Department of Justice attorneys wrote in the July 7 motion for a stay.

“Cruise travel has the potential to introduce COVID-19 variants of concern into the United States from countries such as the Bahamas, Mexico, Honduras, Saint Maarten, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Aruba, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. The CDC has authority to make and enforce such regulations as in its judgment are necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission or spread of communicable disease from a foreign country into the United States.”

The case focuses heavily on what is known as a “conditional sailing order,” which the CDC issued in October, several months after the cruise industry shut down because of COVID-19 outbreaks onboard ships early in the pandemic. The conditional sailing order included a phased approach to resuming cruising, with ship operators needing to meet a series of requirements.

DeSantis on Monday reiterated his arguments that the CDC didn’t have the authority to place such restrictions on the industry, which has a large presence in Florida.

“I think most courts at this point have had their limit of the CDC issuing these dictates without a firm statutory basis,” DeSantis said. “I am confident we’d win on the merits at the full 11th Circuit, and obviously I am confident we would win at the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The legal wrangling at the appeals court comes as Florida also is trying to fend off a lawsuit filed last week in the federal Southern District of Florida by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. That lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of a DeSantis-driven law that prevents cruise lines from requiring passengers to show proof of vaccination before they can board ships — an issue that has been known as requiring COVID-19 vaccine “passports.”

U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams has scheduled an Aug. 6 hearing on Norwegian’s request for a preliminary injunction against the law, which the Legislature passed in April. But attorneys for the state on Friday filed a motion to move the case out of South Florida to a court in the Middle District of Florida.

The motion said the case should be transferred, at least in part, because it involves similar issues as the other cruise-industry case handled by Merryday, who is a judge in the Middle District of Florida.

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