Today the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on what many consider to be a pivotal case in civil rights law. The case is Spector vs. Norwegian Cruise Line, 03-1388. The question at issue is: Are foreign-flagged cruise ships that dock in the US subject to the provisions of the ADA?
Of course this isn’t the first time the issue has been brought before a judge. In fact, two lower court rulings on this subject conflict with one another. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says no to the question at hand, while the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says yes. Additionally the DOJ chimes in with an affirmative answer. So in a sense it will be good to get a final answer from the High Court.
What will the Supremes say? Well, it’s anybody’s guess, but here’s where some of the players stand.
Justice Ginsburg implied that it’s rather ethnocentric to assume that US laws should be applied around the world.
Justice Scalia indicated that a ruling in favor of Spector would broaden the ADA beyond what he considers the original intent of congress.
And finally, Justice Breyer noted that the cost of compliance to such a law would far outweigh the benefits in most cases.
Attorney David Frederick (who represents NCL), also argued that if the ADA was found to apply to foreign-flagged vessels, then other U.S. laws concerning consumer product safety and worker safety might also apply to these ships. Indeed it could open up a big can of worms.
On the other hand, several justices seemed concerned that if foreign-flagged vessels were found to be exempt form the ADA, then they would also be exempt from other US civil rights laws.
And of course since the US Access Board doesn’t have any architectural guidelines for cruise ships yet, even if the Supremes rule if favor of Spector, it will still be a long time before the standards are set and enforced.
On the plus side, many cruise lines have already voluntarily added access features to their vessels. I’d like to think this trend will continue, regardless of the ruling.
What will happen? As I said, at this point it’s anybody’s guess. Stay tuned for the final ruling, which is due out before the end of June.