A late-night order from a federal appeals court Saturday dealt a major setback to Florida’s effort to lift restrictions the federal government imposed on the cruise ship industry in order to prevent outbreaks of the coronavirus.
A panel of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to stay an order a federal judge in Tampa issued last month blocking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s framework for allowing cruises to resume. The cruise business was abruptly shuttered by federal order in March 2020 following a series of mass infections aboard large ships.
The appeals court’s one-page order, issued just before midnight Saturday, offered no explanation for the decision beyond saying the federal government had made “the requisite showing” to obtain a stay allowing the CDC rules to remain in effect. The panel did indicate that one judge dissented.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, brought the suit and touted the ruling last month from U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday as a victory for Florida's economic comeback from the major slowdown in tourism during the pandemic.
Florida could ask the full bench of the 11th Circuit to reinstate the injunction against the CDC policy or seek similar relief from the Supreme Court. Spokespeople for the CDC and for DeSantis did not immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday.
When Merryday issued the now-lifted preliminary injunction at DeSantis’ request on June 18, the judge said it appeared the CDC’s orders related to cruise ships exceeded its authority.
“The CDC cites no historical precedent in which the federal government detained a fleet of vessels for more than a year and imposed comprehensive and impossibly detailed ‘technical guidelines’ before again permitting a vessel to sail,” wrote Merryday, an appointee of President Donald Trump. “CDC cites no historical precedent for, in effect, closing an entire industry. … Although CDC enjoys the authority to temporarily detain a vessel … that authority is not boundless.”
Merryday’s order was set to take effect at midnight Sunday if the appeals court had not acted. He also ordered both sides to continue discussions before a mediator about a potential compromise.
While DeSantis has portrayed the lawsuit as an effort to rescue the cruise industry from the impact of the rules the CDC has imposed, cruise operators have not rushed to back the challenge to the federal rules.
Indeed, just last week, Norwegian Cruise Lines filed a suit aimed at blocking DeSantis’ policy forbidding Florida businesses — including cruise ships sailing from the state — from insisting that patrons be vaccinated. The cruise line said it wants to impose such rules in order to address travelers' safety concerns.
The cruise company filed that suit in federal court in South Florida, but lawyers for the state asked Friday that the suit be moved to Merryday’s court, where the state had already received a sympathetic ruling.
The 11th Circuit ruling was issued by Judge Charles Wilson, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, Judge Jill Pryor, an appointee of President Barack Obama, and Judge Elizabeth Branch, an appointee of President Donald Trump. The court did not specify the dissenting judge.
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