Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Fights Back Against Disney’s Lawsuit: A Battle Over First Amendment Rights and Government Retaliation

In a legal battle that has been ongoing for months, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has filed a Motion to Dismiss the federal lawsuit filed against him by The Walt Disney Company.[0] The suit, filed by Disney in April of this year, accuses DeSantis of using his government position to retaliate against and penalize the company for exercising its First Amendment rights.[1]

The lawsuit stems from a long-running feud between DeSantis and Disney, which began when the company opposed the governor’s legislation known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. This bill restricts teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender in Florida classrooms and is part of DeSantis’ campaign against “woke” progressivism and gender non-conforming individuals.[2]

DeSantis has been engaged in a media, legal, and political battle against Disney ever since the company publicly criticized the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The governor saw this as an opportunity to gain support from his Republican base, but instead, it has backfired. Even former President Donald Trump has criticized DeSantis’ attacks on Disney as excessive.[3]

Disney filed the lawsuit in April, claiming that the governor’s actions constitute a “targeted campaign of governmental retaliation.” The company argues that its constitutional rights have been violated.[4] One of the key issues in the case is a law passed in Florida this spring that invalidated development-related agreements between Disney and the Reedy Creek Improvement District board.[4] This board, which had been controlled by Disney for decades, was dissolved by the legislature, and DeSantis was given authority to appoint members of the successor Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board.[5]

In their motion to dismiss, DeSantis’ attorneys argue that neither the governor nor the secretary of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity enforce any of the laws at issue, so Disney lacks standing to sue them.[6] They also contend that DeSantis is entitled to legislative immunity, which shields his actions in the proposal, formulation, and passage of legislation. They further claim that DeSantis and the secretary have sovereign immunity and legislative immunity, even against claims of retaliation and First Amendment violations.

Disney has all but owned the city of Anaheim, California, since the opening of Disneyland in 1955.[3] The company is responsible for one in five jobs in Anaheim and a significant portion of general fund revenues.[3] Over the years, Disney has secured various tax rebates, protections, bonds, and public benefits through lobbying and political power. In 2015, the Los Angeles Times estimated that Anaheim’s support for Disney over the previous two decades amounted to $1 billion.[3]

DeSantis’ attacks on Disney have made the company appear sympathetic, and they have taken advantage of this sympathy in their efforts to advance an expansion plan called DisneylandForward.[3] The Republican-controlled Legislature in Florida passed a measure that would have dissolved the Reedy Creek district, but they ultimately decided to replace the board instead.[4]

Disney’s federal lawsuit raises arguments that the state violated the company’s rights under the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution.[4] They claim that the contracts between Disney and the former Reedy Creek board were abrogated as part of an explicit campaign of government retaliation.[4] The new district board has countered by filing a lawsuit seeking a ruling that the agreements reached by Disney and the former board are null and void.[4]

The legal battle between DeSantis and Disney is far from over.[2] The company is requesting a court date in July 2024, while the governor’s attorneys are asking for the trial to begin in August 2025, after the November 2024 presidential election. As the case continues, the outcome will have significant implications for both Disney and DeSantis, as well as for the relationship between corporations and governments when it comes to First Amendment rights and government retaliation.

0. “BREAKING: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Files Motion to Dismiss Disney’s Federal Lawsuit” WDW News Today, 26 Jun. 2023, https://wdwnt.com/2023/06/breaking-florida-governor-ron-desantis-files-motion-to-dismiss-disneys-federal-lawsuit/

1. “FL Gov. Ron DeSantis Files Motion to Dismiss Disney Lawsuit” The DIS, 26 Jun. 2023, https://www.wdwinfo.com/news-stories/fl-gov-ron-desantis-files-motion-to-dismiss-disneys-federal-lawsuit/

2. “Ron DeSantis pushes for the federal Disney trial to start after the presidential election” AOL, 28 Jun. 2023, https://www.aol.com/ron-desantis-pushes-federal-disney-154422031.html

3. “Mathews: Anaheim, not Florida, is the best Disney fighter” The Mercury News, 24 Jun. 2023, https://www.mercurynews.com/2023/06/24/mathews-anaheim-not-florida-is-the-best-disney-fighter

4. “Gov. DeSantis, Central Florida District target Disney lawsuit” CBS News, 26 Jun. 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/miami/news/gov-desantis-central-florida-district-target-disney-lawsuit/

5. “DeSantis, new district target Disney lawsuit aimed at them” Orlando Sentinel, 27 Jun. 2023, https://www.orlandosentinel.com/2023/06/26/desantis-district-target-disney-lawsuit-against-them/

6. “Governor DeSantis Challenges Disney for Immunity From Lawsuit” Gizmodo, 26 Jun. 2023, https://gizmodo.com/desantis-challenges-disney-for-immunity-from-lawsuit-1850579199

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top