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Justices Asked to Lift CDC’s Sailing Restrictions on Cruises (1)

July 23, 2021, 9:09 PM; Updated: July 23, 2021, 10:14 PM

Florida is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to free the cruise industry from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “gauntlet of preconditions” necessary before ships can resume sailing, saying that the rules have already cost the state tens of millions of dollars in port revenue and other costs.

The request could be moot after the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed course late Friday by prohibiting the CDC from enforcing the order against ships leaving from Florida ports. The Eleventh Circuit July 17 had said the rules could stay in place while the CDC appealed an earlier ruling finding that the CDC went too far in adopting the rules.

Cruise ships were among the first and worst hit during the early days of the pandemic, with “the largest cluster of COVID-19 cases outside mainland China” occurring on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in February 2020, according to the CDC.

The “Conditional Sailing Order,” in effect since October 2020, set forth detailed guidelines for ships to resume sailing after months of “no sail” orders in light of the increased risk of spread of COVID-19 on cruise ships.

But Florida says the guidelines are so onerous that only five of the 65 ships designated to sail out of the state have been approved for sailing.

Among other things, the order requires ships to “establish COVID-19 testing laboratories, run self-funded experiments called ‘test voyages,’ and comply with social-distancing requirements throughout ships, including in outdoor areas like swimming pools,” the state said Friday.

Florida wants the justices to lift that stay, saying “Florida is all but guaranteed to lose yet another summer cruise season” if the justices refuse to step in. There’s currently no schedule for when the justices might rule on the state’s request.

The justices have lifted several pandemic limits that interfered with religious rights but have kept others in place, rejecting a bid to undo the federal mask mandate for public transportation and keeping in place the CDC’s eviction moratorium.

The case is Florida v. Becerra, U.S., No. 21A5.

(Updated with Eleventh Circuit ruling starting in second paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson in Washington at krobinson@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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