11th Circuit Denies Stay of Injunction Against Controversial “Stop WOKE Act

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has denied the state of Florida’s request to stay a preliminary injunction issued against the controversial Individual Freedom Act, also called the “Stop WOKE Act”, which restricts conversations about race and gender in schools and workplaces.[0] Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker had issued the injunction in November, finding that the law violated First Amendment rights.[1]

The law, a priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis, aims to prohibit “higher education institutions from using any funding, regardless of source, to support DEI, CRT,” and what he inaccurately calls “other discriminatory initiatives.”[2] It also lists race-related concepts that would constitute discrimination if students are subjected to instruction that “espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates or compels” them to believe the concepts.[1] Walker described the law as “positively dystopian” in the way it sought to limit instruction of certain topics.

The state had asked the Atlanta-based appeals court for a stay of the injunction, which would have allowed the law’s restrictions to be in effect while the legal battle played out.[1] On Thursday, the appeals court’s three-judge panel rejected the state’s request for a stay with a two-paragraph order.

“The Court did not rule on the merits of our appeal,” said Bryan Griffin, press secretary for DeSantis, in an email. We are still in the midst of the appeal, and we remain sure that the law is lawful.

The court’s decision to deny the lifting of the injunction during appeal could strengthen similar legal battles against classroom censorship in Florida and other states, as stated in a news release.[3] The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE, one group that sued over the legislation, said in a statement: “Professors must be able to discuss subjects like race and gender without hesitation or fear of state reprisal. Any law that limits the free exchange of ideas in university classrooms should lose in both the court of law and the court of public opinion.”[4]

The ACLU has brought legal challenges to classroom censorship laws in Oklahoma and New Hampshire, and is awaiting rulings on both cases. Oklahoma was the first federal lawsuit to contest one of these bills.[3]

0. “Federal Judge Blocks Florida’s ‘Stop Woke Act’ Once Again” NBC 6 South Florida, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/federal-judge-blocks-floridas-stop-woke-act-once-again/2995521/

1. “Federal court keeps Florida ‘Stop WOKE Act’ on hold” WTSP.com, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.wtsp.com/article/news/politics/florida-stop-woke-act/67-b60ce5e4-71f2-4951-9ba4-b804048a0b61

2. “Eleventh Circuit Affirms Decision to Preliminarily Block Unlawful “Stop W.O.K.E.” Censorship Law” NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.naacpldf.org/press-release/eleventh-circuit-affirms-decision-to-preliminarily-block-unlawful-stop-w-o-k-e-censorship-law/

3. “Federal appeals court allows injunction against ‘Stop WOKE Act’ to stand” Florida Politics, 16 Mar. 2023, https://floridapolitics.com/archives/596078-federal-appeals-court-allows-injunction-against-stop-woke-act-to-stand

4. “Florida universities still may not enforce Individual Freedom act, appeals court says” Tampa Bay Times, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.tampabay.com/news/education/2023/03/16/individual-freedom-bill-judge-mark-walker-gov-ron-desantis/

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