Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

With frustration levels over the CDC's Conditional Sailing Order at a fever pitch, at least one state is suing the agency to overturn the order, while another has suggested it may -- no pun intended -- follow suit.

Florida last week filed a lawsuit against the CDC, with Florida governor Ron DeSantis saying in statement that "no federal law authorizes the CDC to indefinitely impose a nationwide shutdown of an entire industry" and calling the lawsuit "necessary to protect Floridians from the federal government's overreach and resulting economic harm to our state." 

This weekend, Alaska governor Mike Dunleavy said that Alaska may follow Florida's lead.

"If we don't get a positive dialogue this week, that's a really possibility," he told Fox News, adding that not having a big-ship cruise season for the second year in a row "will be crushing to Alaska," which would lose $3.3 billion in state GDP.

Alaska congressman Don Young in February suggested suing the CDC; he said at a conference of the Southeast Alaska communities that they should "file a lawsuit" against the CDC "because they're being prejudiced against one industry."

The question, of course, is whether these lawsuits have any merit. And so far, several legal experts have said that they don't. In a Miami Herald article on Friday, two law professors said Florida's lawsuit has little chance of proceeding and that the federal government has the right to regulate ports of entry and international commerce. 

"I think it's got negligible viability approaching zero," Larry Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University, told the Herald. "Under no circumstance could I see a judge striking down a regulation that applies to cruise ships and the safety of its passengers, because its passengers are going to be introducing infectious diseases back into the U.S. if they get infected on the ship. The U.S. has a very strong interest and power to stop that."

Bob Jarvis, a constitutional law professor at Nova Southeastern University, called the suit "a political stunt" and said, "DeSantis doesn't care that it's going to be laughed out of court. By the time it gets dismissed his base will have moved on."

These politicians are, of course, doing their best to make the situation political. After filing the suit, Florida attorney general Ashley Moody said that "what is even worse than the economic damage caused by this heavy-handed federal overreach is the precedent being set by an eager-to-regulate Biden administration that is unfairly singling out and keeping docked our cruise industry on the basis of outdated data." The CDC's initial No Sail Order, and the subsequent Conditional Sailing Order, was put in place, and kept in place for several months, by the Trump administration.

The cruise industry, however, knows that having a solid relationship with the CDC will be necessary beyond the lifespan of the Covid-19 pandemic, and it is in no rush to antagonize the Biden administration.

Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, in a TV interview Friday expressed thanks for the "the bipartisan support that we are receiving to restart cruising."

CLIA, meanwhile, said that "collaborative communication with government and health authorities in markets outside the United States has been critical to our ability to resume operations responsibly in more than 10 markets since July and will be critical to our ability to resume responsibly in the United States."

And DeSantis seems to be playing both sides when it comes to the vaccine argument. His statement says the CDC's cruise prohibition "continues notwithstanding the fact that Covid-19 vaccines are widely available." But he also signed an executive order prohibiting Florida businesses from requiring customers to provide so-called vaccine passports that prove their vaccinated status -- something that could thwart the cruise industry's reopening plans.

Arnie Weissmann writes: We got vaccinated. So why do politicians block plans for us to show proof?

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Two of the three largest cruise companies, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International, are both requiring proof of vaccination for crew and passengers for initial sailings that are open to North Americans, from ports both outside the U.S. Norwegian also plans to require vaccines as part of its reopening plans in the U.S.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio said that "in order to create the confidence that all of us need -- the CDC, our past guests, our travel agent partners and all of us -- we want to start in the safest manner possible. And there is no loophole; everyone onboard has to be vaccinated."

The mixed messaging is confusing for all. The CDC says vaccinated people can travel with low risk, unless they are traveling on cruise ships. DeSantis says that the government is overreaching by preventing businesses from operating but also says those same private businesses can't mandate that their customers be vaccinated.

It's no wonder we all need a vacation.

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