DeSantis sues CDC to get cruises restarted. Experts call it a ‘political stunt’

MIAMI — Florida governor Ron DeSantis announced Thursday he is suing the federal government in a long-shot attempt to get the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to allow cruising to resume immediately.

Cruise companies were caught off guard by DeSantis’ suit. No cruise lines attended a press conference Thursday at PortMiami at which DeSantis announced the litigation, which legal experts consider a political stunt.

“Today Florida is fighting back,” said DeSantis, who was flanked by Congressman Carlos Gimenez and Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman Jose “Pepe” Diaz. “We don’t believe the federal government has the right to mothball a major industry for over a year based on very little evidence and very little data. I think we have a great chance for success.

Cruises in the U.S. have been banned since mid-March 2020 after COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths on multiple ships. Now cruise companies are working to comply with the second phase of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “conditional sail order” — a framework to get the industry restarted first published in October. On Friday, the agency released requirements for agreements cruise companies must secure with U.S. ports and local health authorities in the cities they plan to visit.

In an interview Monday, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s maritime division Martin Cetron said if vaccination supply and distribution continue to accelerate and more deadly COVID-19 variants are kept at bay, the agency could allow for passengers to board cruise ships as soon as July. Cruise companies say they are confident they can operate safely by then, too.

Some cruise companies frustrated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s process are planning to start cruises from Caribbean ports as soon as June, a move DeSantis said he doesn’t want to see continue any longer.

“Instead of flying to Miami, spending money to stay in our hotels, spending money to eat in our restaurants before they get on the ship, they’re going to fly to The Bahamas, and they’re going to get on the ships from the Bahamas, and they’re going to spend money in the Bahamas,” said DeSantis. “And they’re going to do the same thing they would have done, it just won’t be helping the state of Florida and it won’t be helping our folks here who really depend on it.”

The lawsuit, which Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said she filed Thursday morning but still hasn’t appeared on the federal judiciary’s court records site, is aimed at the Biden administration, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said.

Legal experts say the lawsuit has very little chance of proceeding. The federal government has very broad control to regulate ports of entry and international commerce.

“I think it’s got negligible liability approaching zero,” said Larry Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University and director of the World Health Organization’s center on global health law. “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.”

Then there’s the issue of standing. While cruise companies may be able to successfully argue they are victims of the federal government’s regulations, the governor is unlikely to be able to make the same argument.

“It’s a political stunt, and it’s not viable,” said Bob Jarvis, a constitutional law professor at Nova Southeastern University. “DeSantis doesn’t care that it’s gong to be laughed out of court. By the time it gets dismissed his base will have moved on.”

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