Judge who threw out Don’t Say Gay challenge to decide DeSantis vs Disney lawsuit

Judge Allen Winsor will decide the fate of Don't Say Gay

A judge who favoured Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law will preside over Disney’s lawsuit against Ron DeSantis after a colleague disqualified himself from the case.

An order filed last week, revealed that district judge Mark Walker, appointed by former president Obama, stepped down from overseeing the case after learning that a relative owns 30 shares in the Walt Disney Company, Forbes reported. 

After Walker stepping down, the case was reassigned to district judge Allen Winsor, who was appointed by Donald Trump.

Winsor, who was appointed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida in 2019, has previously dismissed two lawsuits that challenged Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, better known as Don’t Say Gay.

The judge dismissed both challenges, saying the plaintiffs’ arguments were insufficient and didn’t have relevant standing. 

Don’t Say Gay took effect in July last year. It bans public school teachers from engaging in “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity”.

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The Republican-controlled legislature passed an extension to the law in March, expanding its reach from third-grade pupils, to those in the eighth grade.

From 2013 to 2016, Winsor served as solicitor general of Florida, during which time he was involved in two cases brought by a group of 10 same-sex couples who wanted to be legally married.

According to The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which opposed Winsor’s confirmation in 2019, he defended Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage, which was implemented in 1977.

Winsor has also reportedly opposed abortion rights, environmental protections and gun-safety measures.

Judge Mark Walker denies claims about impartiality

In disqualifying himself, Judge Walker denied claims from governor DeSantis’ legal team that there was a question about his impartiality. 

Walker blocked Florida officials from enforcing the Stop Woke Act after DenSantis signed the legislation into law in April 2022. The legislation targets critical race theory, and heavily restricts how workplaces, schools and colleges can teach about racism, homophobia and other systemic biases.

Walker said the motion from DenSantis’ legal team seeking his removal from the case lacked merit and that it amounted to “nothing more than rank judge-shopping,” Reuters reported.

In April, Disney launched legal action against DeSantis over his takeover of the theme park’s special district.

The lawsuit accuses the presidential hopeful and his supporters of illegally using state government to pursue a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” to punish the company for voicing an opinion that should be protected under the First Amendment. 

The Independent reported that Disney’s complaint alleges: “At the governor’s bidding, the state’s oversight board has purported to ‘void’ publicly noticed and duly-agreed development contracts, which had laid the foundation for billions of Disney’s investment dollars and thousands of jobs.

“This government action was patently retaliatory, patently anti-business and patently unconstitutional.”

DeSantis’ administration has called the lawsuit an “unfortunate example of their hope to undermine the will of Florida voters and operate outside the bounds of the law”.