Judge rules in Florida’s favor in CDC lawsuit, but Alaska’s cruise season is still ‘good to go’

Key West cruise ships aerial
Before the pandemic, up to three cruise ships could be in port in Key West, Florida, at a time. (Photo by Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Service)

A federal judge’s ruling in a lawsuit brought by the state of Florida won’t affect cruise ship sailings to Alaska. But it does temporarily block the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s pandemic rules for cruises departing from Florida ports.

The case has been closely watched as the CDC argued Florida’s challenge to federal pandemic rules could imperil an exemption to a law that required Alaska-bound cruise ships that are foreign flagged to make a stop in Canada, which has closed its ports to large cruise traffic until next year.

Florida’s lawsuit argued the CDC had overstepped its authority with restrictive rules for cruise ships. Tampa-based federal judge Steven Merryday agreed that the 15-month shutdown of the cruise industry went well beyond the agency’s authority outlined in federal law.

“Never has CDC imposed restrictions that have summarily dismissed the effectiveness of state regulation and halted for an extended time an entire multi-billion dollar industry nationwide. In a word, never has CDC implemented measures as extensive, disabling, and exclusive as those under review in this action,” Merryday wrote in a 124-page ruling.

The judge’s order makes clear that the decision would not affect Alaska’s cruise season — the ruling applies only to departures from Florida.

“Alaska’s cruise season is good to go,” Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s spokesman Jeff Turner said in an email to reporters.

The states of Alaska and Texas have filed to join Florida’s challenge of the CDC regulations. But Merryday says in his order that their requests to join the suit remain unresolved.
The judge left open the possibility for the CDC to ask for a narrower ruling “both permitting cruise ships to sail timely and remaining within CDC’s authority as interpreted in this order” by July 2.

The ruling takes effect July 18.

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