A federal judge handed a legal victory to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Wednesday by dismissing Walt Disney Co.’s 1st Amendment lawsuit against him. Disney, quick to respond, promptly appealed the judge’s decision.
The lawsuit, filed by Disney in April, contested DeSantis’ actions after he and state Republicans assumed control of the special district governing Walt Disney World. Disney alleged that the governor and his allies targeted the company in response to its criticism of Florida’s anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, claiming a violation of its speech rights.
Previously known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the governing body had granted Disney significant powers in the region, essentially functioning as the company’s municipal government. However, DeSantis signed legislation enabling the state to take control of the district and replace it with a tourism oversight board, consisting of the governor’s appointees.
Late last year, DeSantis’ legal team moved to dismiss Disney’s case, arguing that the entertainment giant lacked standing to sue the governor. The judge concurred, stating that Disney “lacks standing” and that its claims against the governor’s newly named Central Florida Tourism Oversight District “fail on merits.”
The judge cited established law indicating that when a statute is facially constitutional, a plaintiff cannot challenge it on free-speech grounds by alleging a constitutionally impermissible purpose. In his order, U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor noted Disney’s allegations against the governor’s power to appoint board members and his “actual control” over the oversight district. However, the judge found these bases insufficient, particularly as Disney did not demonstrate an imminent future injury.
Disney, undeterred, appealed the decision, escalating the case to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. A Disney spokesperson emphasized the case’s significance, stating that it holds serious implications for the rule of law. The spokesperson asserted that the legal dispute would not conclude here, expressing determination to press forward with the case. Disney argued that allowing such actions by states could set a dangerous precedent, enabling them to misuse their official powers to penalize the expression of dissenting political viewpoints.