Florida to appeal 'vaccine passport' ruling that said Norwegian cruises could require proof of vaccinations

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration plans to appeal a federal judge’s ruling that sided with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings in a constitutional challenge to Florida’s ban on so-called "vaccine passports."

DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said Monday that the administration disagrees with the ruling Sunday by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams and will take the case to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Williams backed Norwegian’s arguments that the vaccine-passport ban violates the First Amendment and what is known as the dormant Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. She issued an injunction against a state law that would prevent Norwegian from requiring documentation that cruise passengers have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

"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," Pushaw wrote in a statement.

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The cruise line issued a news release late Sunday that said the ruling will allow it to "operate in the safest way possible with 100% vaccination of all guests and crew when sailing from Florida ports." Norwegian plans to return to cruising from Miami on Sunday.

Williams wrote that the law is a "content-based restriction" on speech, as it targets documentation but allows businesses to request other information from customers about issues such as vaccinations.

She also wrote that the law "does not prohibit businesses from subjecting unvaccinated customers --- and those who decline to verify their vaccination status and are deemed unvaccinated --- to restrictions, requirements, and expenses that do not apply to vaccinated patrons."

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As for the dormant Commerce Clause, Williams agreed that Norwegian can show the law "imposes substantial burdens on interstate commerce that will directly affect their abilities to operate" cruise ships.

The state law, passed in April, applies to businesses across the state, but Williams’ ruling was limited to Norwegian.