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Supreme Court Hears Cruise Line Accessibility Case
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
March 1, 2005

WASHINGTON, DC--The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in a case that could determine whether cruise ships from other countries must follow the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act when they are in U.S. waters.

The case, Douglas Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line, was filed by a group of passengers with disabilities and their companions who traveled on the Norwegian Star and Norwegian Sea cruise ships in 1998 an 1999. The ships originated in the Port of Houston, Texas, but sailed under the Bahamian flag.

The passengers filed a discrimination suit under Title III of the ADA, which covers accessibility in public accommodations. According to court documents, they claimed that physical barriers on the ships denied them access to emergency evacuation equipment and emergency evacuation-related programs; facilities such as public restrooms, restaurants, swimming pools, and elevators; and cabins with a balcony or a window. They also alleged that the cruise line charged them extra for using accessible cabins and for the assistance of crew members.

David Frederick, representing Norwegian Cruise Line, told the court that that Congress said nothing about the ADA covering foreign cruise lines.

On one hand, the Justices seemed concerned that if the ADA does not apply to foreign ships using U.S. ports, other anti-discrimination laws might not apply.

"A ship pulling into a U.S. port would be free to discriminate on the basis of race?" Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked Frederick.

Frederick said it would.

On the other hand, Ginsburg told Spector's attorney, Tom Goldstein: "You are in effect saying that the U.S. rules the world."

Goldstein explained that nearly all cruise ships use U.S. ports, and that Americans who purchase tickets in the states should be protected by U.S. law.

In January of last year, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled in part for the cruise line. Both sides then asked for the Supreme Court to hear the case.

If the court rules that the ADA applies to foreign cruse lines, the travel industry could be forced to spend millions of dollars to make cruise ships accessible.

Several disability advocacy groups filed an amicus ("friend of the court") brief supporting Spector and the other plaintiffs in the case.

"Disabled Traveler Sues Cruise Line" (ABC News)
"News on oral arguments, heard yesterday, in Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line" (Scotusblog)
"Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line" (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit)


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