Disney sues Florida governor over alleged “targeted campaign of government retaliation

The Walt Disney Company filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, accusing him of overseeing a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” against the company that is threatening its operations.[0] The legal action is the latest development in a feud between the governor and the entertainment giant, which began when Disney criticized a Florida bill limiting classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics. In response, the governor and his allies targeted the special tax district that has allowed Disney to essentially self-govern its Florida operations since the 1960s.[1]

Disney is asking a court to rule that the new board’s action, as well as legislation targeting Disney, is unlawful and unenforceable for multiple reasons, including that they were “enacted in retaliation for Disney’s political speech in violation of the First Amendment.” The company asks the court to find that the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District’s voiding of its development contracts is “unlawful and unenforceable” because it allegedly violates Disney’s property rights, right to due process, and First Amendment rights.[2]

The governor’s office responded to the lawsuit by stating that they were “unaware of any legal right that a company has to operate its own government or maintain special privileges not held by other businesses in the state.”[3] DeSantis’s communications director, Taryn Fenske, added that the lawsuit is “yet another unfortunate example of [Disney’s] hope to undermine the will of the Florida voters and operate outside the bounds of the law.”[4]

Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who is running for president, suggested that Disney should move to South Carolina where it would be more welcome. “If Disney would like to move their hundreds of thousands of jobs to South Carolina, and bring the billions of dollars with them, I’ll be happy to meet them in South Carolina and introduce them to the governor and the legislature,” she said.

The battle between DeSantis and Disney has been ongoing since last year when Disney publicly denounced Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, which critics dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.” In response, DeSantis signed a bill transferring control of the district to the state, and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board of supervisors — the board named by DeSantis and packed with his allies — took over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special taxing district that for half a century gave Disney control over the land around its Central Florida theme parks.[5]

In February, the Legislature, which was mostly comprised of Republicans, voted to dissolve a self-governing district that was under the control of Walt Disney World for its Florida properties. This decision was made at the request of the governor and eventually led to DeSantis gaining control of the board.[6] The company’s opposition to the law was widely regarded as the reason for the move being seen as a form of punishment.[6]

During a shareholders’ meeting on April 3, Disney CEO Bob Iger made one of the rare public statements on the conflict, condemning DeSantis’ actions as detrimental to both business and the state of Florida.[7] The essence of this pertains to the significance of residing and laboring in a nation where the principle of law prevails.[5] He stated that all individuals are required to follow identical regulations.[5] “Disney was openly and legally granted unique and special privilege — that privilege of running its own government for a time.[5] The period has come to a close.[8]

0. “Disney lawsuit claims Ron DeSantis engaged in “retaliatory” acts” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 26 Apr. 2023, https://www.heraldtribune.com/story/news/politics/2023/04/26/disney-lawsuit-claims-ron-desantis-engaged-in-retaliatory-acts/70154588007/

1. “Disney sues Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, alleges political effort to hurt its business” CNBC, 26 Apr. 2023, https://www.cnbc.com/2023/04/26/disney-sues-florida-gov-ron-desantis-alleges-political-effort-to-hurt-its-business.html

2. “Disney Sues Ron DeSantis Over Florida Special District” Hollywood Reporter, 26 Apr. 2023, https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/business/business-news/disney-florida-lawsuit-1235402731

3. “Disney sues Ron DeSantis in battle over control of Florida resort” The Guardian US, 26 Apr. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/apr/26/disney-sues-governor-ron-desantis-florida-resort

4. “Disney-DeSantis battle heats up” The Hill, 26 Apr. 2023, https://thehill.com/newsletters/evening-report/3973990-disney-desantis-battle-heats-up/

5. “Disney sues Ron DeSantis, accusing Florida governor of ‘targeted campaign’ of ‘retaliation'” WPTV News Channel 5 West Palm, 26 Apr. 2023, https://www.wptv.com/news/political/disney-sues-gov-ron-desantis-accusing-florida-governor-of-targeted-campaign-of-retaliation

6. “Disney files lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over ‘retaliatory’ actions against Walt Disney World” FOX 35 Orlando, 26 Apr. 2023, https://www.fox35orlando.com/news/walt-disney-world-files-lawsuit-against-florida-gov-ron-desantis

7. “DeSantis-appointed board voids Disney district’s previous agreements” Tampa Bay Times, 26 Apr. 2023, https://www.tampabay.com/news/florida-politics/2023/04/26/desantis-appointed-board-voids-disney-districts-previous-agreements/

8. “‘Weaponizing its power’: Disney accuses DeSantis of retaliation in federal lawsuit” POLITICO, 26 Apr. 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/04/26/disney-desantis-retaliation-lawsuit-00093962

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