Disney Files Lawsuit Against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for Retaliation Over “Don’t Say Gay” Bill

Disney has filed a lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, accusing him of carrying out a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” against the company. The lawsuit claims that DeSantis retaliated against Disney after the company criticized the Parental Rights in Education Act, which was signed into law in March 2022. The act, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, restricts instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.[0] The feud between Disney and DeSantis began after the company executives criticized the bill. In response, DeSantis revoked Disney’s self-governing status, and the company filed a lawsuit against him.

The recent lawsuit filed by Disney against DeSantis claims that the governor’s retaliation has threatened Disney’s business operations, jeopardized its economic future in the region, and violated its constitutional rights. The lawsuit also cites a “development agreement” that Disney signed with the outgoing board of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which gave the company developmental authority over the district.[1] DeSantis declared the agreement null and void, and the company sued soon after.[2]

The feud between Disney and DeSantis has been ongoing for over a year, with Disney openly opposing Republican-led restrictions that ban public school teachers from covering issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity.[3] DeSantis has been battling Disney since the company opposed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.[4] DeSantis has been touted as a possible 2024 Republican nominee for the presidency, and the feud with Disney, part of a wider campaign against “woke culture,” could impact who is elected to the White House in 2024.[4]

Disney’s lawsuit against DeSantis alleges that he has violated the U.S. Constitution’s Contracts Clause, which prohibits states from “impairing” contractual obligations with or among private parties.[5] The lawsuit also claims that DeSantis and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District’s actions violated Disney’s First Amendment rights, because they were motivated by a desire to retaliate against the company for engaging in protected political speech. Legal analysts say that Disney’s case could find a favorable venue in the federal court, and specifically in Tallahassee, where the chief judge assigned to the lawsuit against DeSantis is Mark E. Walker, an Obama-appointed judge who has ruled against DeSantis-approved legislation in the past, including on free-speech issues.[5]

The feud between Disney and DeSantis has led to lawsuits filed by both parties, and residents and business owners in the area appear to be turning on DeSantis. The company’s recent lawsuit against the governor is the latest step in an acrimonious and highly public fight between two Florida heavyweights.

0. “Ron DeSantis Says Disney Has “Not Made A Peep” Since Skirmish Over “Don’t Say Gay” Law: “The Party Is Over For Them”” Deadline, 7 May. 2023, https://deadline.com/2023/05/ron-desantis-disney-not-made-a-peep-skirmish-dont-say-gay-law-party-is-over-1235358563/

1. “Florida legislature approves bill allowing DeSantis-appointed board to cancel Disney agreements” The Hill, 5 May. 2023, https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/3990125-florida-legislature-approves-bill-allowing-desantis-appointed-board-to-cancel-disney-agreements/

2. “Feud between Disney and DeSantis heads to court in dueling lawsuits” The Washington Post, 6 May. 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2023/05/06/disney-desantis-lawsuits-florida/

3. “Gov. DeSantis Says Biggest Victory is Silencing Disney on Political Issues After ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Skirmish in New Interview” WDW News Today, 7 May. 2023, https://wdwnt.com/2023/05/gov-desantis-says-biggest-victory-is-silencing-disney-on-political-issues-after-dont-say-gay-skirmish-in-new-interview/

4. “Ron DeSantis says he cowered Disney into silence on social issues” Daily Mail, 6 May. 2023, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12054235/Ron-DeSantis-says-cowered-Disney-silence-social-issues.html

5. “Disney Should Thank DeSantis for His Big Dumb Mouth” New York Magazine, 3 May. 2023, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2023/05/disney-should-thank-ron-desantis-for-his-big-dumb-mouth.html

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