Federal Judge Hands DeSantis a Win in His Never-Ending Clash With Disney

Reuters/Elizabeth Frantz
Reuters/Elizabeth Frantz

A federal judge threw out a retaliation lawsuit filed by the Walt Disney Company against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials on Wednesday, handing DeSantis a win in his seemingly never-ending clash with the entertainment giant.

The lawsuit, filed last year, claimed that DeSantis and a state board teamed up to violate Disney’s First Amendment right to free speech by retaliating against it for criticizing proposed legislation about the discussion of sexuality in classrooms.

U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, an appointee of Donald Trump based in Florida’s capital, said Disney’s legal argument didn’t hold water since the alleged retaliation—appointing a not-so-Disney-friendly oversight committee to oversee the company’s special development district—came via constitutionally enacted state laws.

“Disney lacks standing to sue the Governor,” wrote Winsor in a ruling, adding, “when a statute is facially constitutional, a plaintiff cannot bring a free-speech challenge by claiming that the lawmakers who passed it acted with a constitutionally impermissible purpose.”

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Disney has indicated they plan to appeal the decision, releasing a statement Wednesday that began, “This is an important case with serious implications for the rule of law, and it will not end here.”

“If left unchallenged, this would set a dangerous precedent and give license to states to weaponize their official powers to punish the expression of political viewpoints they disagree with,” the statement continued. “We are determined to press forward with our case.”

Wednesday’s decision is another twist in DeSantis’ beef with one of his state’s biggest employers and tourism drivers, all of which stems from Disney’s vocal opposition to the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill that was proposed in March 2022.

Only after that opposition did Disney fall into DeSantis’ cross hairs, first by nasty comments, and later by him stripping Disney of its control over the Reedy Creek Improvement District. That district had given Disney virtual autonomy over its theme parks and resorts since 1967, which allowed it to make decisions largely without having to consult county and state officials.

DeSantis’ takeover of the district, which included renaming it as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight district, occurred in February. Immediately, the DeSantis-appointed board voided contracts the old Disney-backed board has pushed through just before they were replaced.

Disney came out firing against the governor and filed a lawsuit against him last year, claiming they were being wrongly attacked—and financially hurt—by a politician for practicing their right to free speech. That claim will now have to go before a federal appeal’s court in Atlanta if it’s to survive.

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