Political Speech

Disney Hopes Prosecutor’s Free Speech Case Against DeSantis Helps Its Own

In this July 30, 2022, file photo, people gather ahead of the “Festival of Fantasy” parade at the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom theme park in Orlando, Florida. (Reuters/Octavio Jones)

By The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Disney is hoping a recent decision bolstering a Florida prosecutor’s First Amendment case against Gov. Ron DeSantis helps its own free speech lawsuit against the governor.

A decision last week by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that revived a First Amendment challenge by former prosecutor Andrew Warren, who was suspended by DeSantis, should support Disney’s arguments against the governor, the company said Thursday in a court filing.

“The same values are at stake here,” Disney said.

After DeSantis and the Republican-led Legislature took control of the governing district of Walt Disney World near Orlando, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts filed a First Amendment lawsuit in federal court in Tallahassee last year against DeSantis and his appointees to the district’s governing board. Before DeSantis appointed the new members to the board, it had been controlled by Disney supporters for more than five decades.

Disney claims its free speech rights were violated in retaliation for the company opposing the state’s new so-called Don’t Say Gay law, which bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades. The law was championed by DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican nomination to run for president.

The governor’s attorneys have argued that the case should be dismissed, claiming DeSantis is immune since he doesn’t enforce any of the laws that removed supervision of the government from the Disney supporters.

A decision by the judge on whether the case should be dismissed could help determine who controls the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which performs municipal services such as planning, mosquito control and firefighting in the roughly 40 square miles (100 square kilometers) in central Florida that make up Disney World.

In response to Disney’s court filing last week, the DeSantis appointees contend that the Tampa prosecutor’s free speech case is different from Disney’s lawsuit. The prosecutor’s case dealt with actions taken by the governor, whereas Disney’s lawsuit involves legislation passed by the Legislature, the appointees said in a court filing.