Angered by recent criticism from Walt Disney Co, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has gone to extraordinary lengths to bring the entertainment giant to heel, sparking a legal skirmish that could have national implications.
On Friday, a Florida judge rejected a request from Disney to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a state oversight district, making it harder for the company to pursue its own case against the governor.
The legal feud began last year after Disney publicly questioned a Florida law banning classroom discussion of sexuality and gender identity with younger children. One of the law’s opponents, DeSantis has responded with a vengeance, rallying state lawmakers to pass a bill that gave him control of a local district overseeing Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District.
The Act also retroactively invalidated agreements that Disney had previously reached with the district, which sought to void the deals in its own lawsuit.
The move prompted Disney to file a suit against DeSantis in federal court in April, claiming the governor had “weaponized” the state government against the company. The suit asked for both an injunction preventing the state from further enforcing the laws directed at the company as well as the reinstatement of the favorable development deals previously struck with the prior district board.
The federal lawsuit seeks to “vindicate Disney’s constitutional rights,” a company spokesperson said in an email.
Friday’s ruling allows the oversight district to pursue its own case, which could nearly wipe out Disney’s case against the governor if the prior deals were found to be voided.
“We are fully confident Disney will prevail in both the federal and state cases,” the spokesperson said.
The battle between the two media giants now heads into uncertain territory, as the laws governing the district’s agreements with the company may be examined by courts across multiple states. The case has been seen by some as a test for First Amendment rights in the US, as the governor’s actions may have affected Disney’s freedom of speech.
The outcome of the showdown could ripple across the nation, with the judges’ decisions likely to further inform our understanding of free speech rights in a visibly polarized country.
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