Disney Files Lawsuit Against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Over Alleged Retaliation

The Walt Disney Company has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other officials, alleging a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” after the company publicly opposed a state law that restricts instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.[0] Disney claims that the governor’s moves against the company were retaliation for its opposition to a parental rights bill last year, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law by detractors. The company’s opposition to the law led DeSantis to increase state control over the 25,000-acre area that Disney has self-governed for decades, the Reedy Creek Improvement District.[1] He slammed Disney for having “extraordinary special privileges” as an “unaccountable Corporate Kingdom.”[1] The power to appoint a five-member board to supervise the district, which will be called the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, was granted to DeSantis through a law he signed.[1] However, prior to the board assuming control, the former members of the Reedy Creek district entered into a contract with Disney, granting them developmental jurisdiction over the amusement park. To retain its independence, just as the old, Disney-friendly board’s control was sunsetting, the company and the district agreed to a contract that gave Disney control over its theme parks, hamstringing the incoming board. After being outmaneuvered, DeSantis and his fellow board members attempted to invalidate the agreement.[2] Several lawyers were hired by the new board who then declared the last-minute contract null and void.[2] Meanwhile, GOP legislators drafted yet another round of legislation aimed at rolling back Disney’s power play.[2]

DeSantis’ war with Disney is seen as a political selling point that helped him build his national profile as he prepares for a likely presidential bid in 2024.[2] If he were perceived as having lost to a corporation, it would undermine his chances of winning.[3] However, many conservative Disney fans have come out against DeSantis, claiming his attacks against the company violate the First Amendment.[4] “DeSantis has repeatedly said that taking over Disney’s special district is the will of the people.’[4] At what point in time was this matter presented to the electorate? It hasn’t,” one theme park aficionado tweeted.[4] “GovRonDeSantis has lost my vote.”[4]

The lawsuit alleges that DeSantis and other officials improperly retaliated against Disney because of the company’s opposition to the controversial law. According to the lawsuit, Disney is now in an unfortunate predicament due to expressing a perspective that was not favored by the Governor and his supporters.[5] Disney regrets that the situation could not have been resolved in an alternative manner.[6] Disney is aware of its privilege in being able to resist the State’s backlash, which smaller businesses or individuals may not have the means to do, should they face punishment for expressing their opinions.[6] The government in America is not allowed to penalize individuals for expressing their opinions.[6] The company is prepared to litigate those issues, but as it states in the complaint, “regrets that it has come to this.”[3]

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Marco Rubio has expressed concerns that DeSantis’ feud with Disney could scare businesses from Florida out of fear that they could face political retaliation.[7] He expressed concern that repeated instances of political firestorms may deter businesses from considering Florida as a viable option, as they may fear repercussions if they engage in political conflicts.[8]

The drama between DeSantis and Disney continues as both sides dig in their heels. While DeSantis has positioned himself as a social issue warrior, Disney is seen as having the upper hand in this particular battle.[3] As the lawsuit plays out in federal court, it remains to be seen how this feud will impact DeSantis’ political future and the business climate in Florida.

0. “Florida Senate backs nullifying Disney agreements” CBS News, 27 Apr. 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/miami/news/florida-senate-backs-nullifying-disney-agreements

1. “Rubio warns against Florida going after companies for ‘political purposes’” The Hill, 27 Apr. 2023, https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/3976235-rubio-warns-against-florida-going-after-companies-for-political-purposes/

2. “DeSantis’ Cartoon Villainy Gives Disney’s Lawsuit a Clear Path to Victory – Mother Jones” Mother Jones, 27 Apr. 2023, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2023/04/ron-desantis-disney-lawsuit

3. “Disney sues Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over political retaliation” Vox.com, 26 Apr. 2023, https://www.vox.com/politics/2023/4/26/23699368/disney-ron-desantis-lawsuit-florida-central-tourism-oversight-board

4. “Ron DeSantis F-cked With the Wrong Fandom” Rolling Stone, 28 Apr. 2023, https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/ron-desantis-disney-adults-reddit-1234724999/

5. “Disney’s lawsuit creates an important new problem for DeSantis” MSNBC, 27 Apr. 2023, https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/maddowblog/disneys-lawsuit-creates-important-new-problem-desantis-rcna81730

6. “Disney Sues Ron DeSantis, Claiming ‘Targeted Campaign of Retaliation'” Reason, 26 Apr. 2023, https://reason.com/2023/04/26/disney-sues-ron-desantis-claiming-targeted-campaign-of-retaliation

7. “McCarthy tells DeSantis to ‘sit down and negotiate’ with Disney” USA TODAY, 28 Apr. 2023, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2023/04/28/governor-ron-desantis-disney-speaker-kevin-mccarthy/11760818002/

8. “Marco Rubio cautions Ron DeSantis on Florida feud with Disney World” Palm Beach Post, 28 Apr. 2023, https://www.palmbeachpost.com/story/news/politics/2023/04/28/marco-rubio-cautions-ron-desantis-on-florida-feud-with-disney-world/70163571007

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