Disney’s free speech lawsuit against Ron DeSantis dismissed by judge after ‘Don’t Say Gay’ row

Ron DeSantis, wearing a blue suit and red tie, speaks with his mouth open.

Disney has suffered a major setback in its ongoing dispute with Ron DeSantis, after a federal judge dismissed the company’s lawsuit against the Florida governor.

District judge Allen Winsor, nominated by then-president Donald Trump in 2018, rejected Disney’s claim against Republican DeSantis on Wednesday (31 January), ruling that the company “lacks standing” to sue the governor.

Disney took action against DeSantis last year after the governor tightened control over its largely self-governed Florida amusement park – a move that came in response to the company’s criticism of his ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation.

The judge cited previous rulings that said plaintiffs could not challenge an otherwise “constitutional” law change on free speech grounds “by claiming that the lawmakers who passed it acted with a constitutionally impermissible purpose.”

‘It will not end here’

But, according to the New York Post, a Disney spokesperson said: “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 licence to states to weaponise their official powers to punish the expression of political viewpoints they disagree with. We are determined to press forward with our case.”

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DeSantis’ press secretary, Jeremy Redfern, welcomed the outcome, writing on X/Twitter that the decision made it clear the governor was in the right.

The feud between DeSantis and the Happiest Place on Earth has been going on since the passing of Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law, also known as the Parental Rights in Education Bill.

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DeSantis signed it into law in March 2022, effectively banning LGBTQ+ topics and discussions from classrooms up to the third grade. It has been expanded since then, with all grades now covered by the legislation.

Disney publicly criticised the law, and, in response, DeSantis moved to revoke its special tax district status in Florida.

Taking control of the special-development district Disney had controlled since the mid-Sixties, a year ago, DeSantis said “the corporate kingdom finally comes to an end” and declared himself the “new sheriff in town”.  

Disney responded by suing the governor and the Tourism Oversight board members in April for allegedly punishing the company for its political comments. 

Its legal documents accused DeSantis of a “relentless campaign to weaponise government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain state officials.”

But now Judge Winsor has ruled Disney’s claims of injury resulting from the appointment of board members to a new district created by Florida lawmakers was “in the past.”

Disney also failed to show damages from specific actions the new board has taken or will take because of the governor’s alleged control of it, Winsor added.

That case is still pending. 

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