In a recent development, a federal judge has dismissed Disney's free speech lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor ruled that Disney lacked standing in its First Amendment lawsuit against the governor and his appointees to the governing district of Walt Disney World. However, a separate state court challenge is still pending.
The lawsuit stemmed from legislation signed by DeSantis and passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature that transferred control of the Disney World governing district from Disney supporters to DeSantis appointees. Disney argued that this move was in retaliation for the company publicly opposing Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law, which bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades.
Judge Winsor, appointed by President Donald Trump in 2019, stated that Disney didn't have standing to sue the governor because the appointees to the governing district had already been selected. He also dismissed claims that the law was unconstitutional, as it didn't specifically target Disney but rather special districts created before the ratification of the Florida Constitution.
Disney plans to appeal the decision, stating that it has serious implications for the rule of law and sets a dangerous precedent. The company believes that allowing states to punish political viewpoints they disagree with would undermine free expression.
Governor DeSantis' press secretary, Jeremy Redfern, hailed the judge's decision as supporting the belief that Disney shouldn't have its own special government. He emphasized that Disney no longer has control over its own government and should not be above the law.
Prior to the change in control of the governing district, Disney supporters on the board had signed agreements with the company, giving Disney control over design and construction at Disney World. However, the new DeSantis appointees argued that these agreements limited their powers and sued Disney to have them voided. Disney has counterclaimed, seeking to have the agreements declared valid and enforceable.
Since the change in leadership, around 50 employees have left the district, citing concerns about politicization and distractions caused by the backgrounds of the DeSantis appointees.
This case is far from over, and its outcome will continue to be closely watched by both Disney and DeSantis supporters.