A Trump-appointed federal judge has shot down a court challenge from Disney that sought to rid itself of the board Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis created to oversee development in and around the land Disney owns in Florida.
Disney claimed that the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District created by DeSantis violated its First Amendment rights, claiming it was punitive because the entertainment giant was battling DeSantis over several pieces of legislation.
Judge Allen Winsor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee, who was appointed in 2019 by former President Donald Trump, threw out Disney’s case, according to The New York Times.
Disney sued DeSantis claiming he led a “relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint,” adding the action taken by DeSantis “now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region and violates its constitutional rights.”
The ruling said there was no doubt that the creation of a new board to oversee the area where Disney operated was a negative for the company.
“This change — which works to Disney’s significant detriment — came after Disney publicly criticized another Florida law, the Parental Rights in Education Act. In Disney’s view, this timing was no coincidence. Disney alleges that the Florida Legislature changed the district’s governing structure to punish it for its speech. The issue in this case is whether the Legislature’s action constituted unlawful retaliation against Disney’s speech in violation of the First Amendment,” the ruling noted.
However, the ruling said, “Disney lacks standing to sue the Governor or the Secretary, and its claims against the CFTOD Defendants fail on the merits because ‘when a statute is facially constitutional, a plaintiff cannot bring a free-speech challenge by claiming that the lawmakers who passed it acted with a constitutionally impermissible purpose,’” referring to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District
The ruling said Disney “faces land-use decisions by a board over which it has no control,” but added that Disney “has not alleged facts showing that any imminent future appointments will contribute to its harm.”
“Disney has not alleged any specific actions the new board took (or will take) because of the Governor’s alleged control. In fact, Disney has not alleged any specific injury from any board action. Its alleged injury, as discussed above, is its operating under a board it cannot control. That injury would exist whether or not the Governor controlled the board, meaning an injunction precluding the Governor from influencing the board would not redress Disney’s asserted injury,” Winsor wrote.
The ruling said Florida’s legislature, which approved the new board, has the power to do what it did.
“As Disney appropriately acknowledges, the Legislature can determine the structure of Florida’s special improvement districts. Disney does not argue that the First Amendment (or anything else) would preclude the Legislature from enacting the challenged laws without a retaliatory motivation,” the ruling said.
Disney claimed it was targeted by the new board, but as the judge read the law, he found, “A law either explicitly singles out a specific group or it does not, and the laws here do not”
“Here, similarly, no one reading the text of the challenged laws would suppose them directed against Disney. The laws do not mention Disney. Disney is left to argue that we should go beyond the laws’ text and see what they do in operation.”
He also noted that Disney “is not the district’s only landowner, and other landowners within the district are affected by the same laws.”
Per the Times, DeSantis’ spokesman Jeremy Redfern said in a statement, “The days of Disney controlling its own government and being placed above the law are long gone.”
“The federal court’s decision made it clear that Governor DeSantis was correct: Disney is still just one of many corporations in the state, and they do not have a right to their own special government. In short — as long predicted, case dismissed,” he said, according to CNN.
A representative of Disney, however, signified an appeal will be forthcoming.
“This is an important case with serious implications for the rule of law, and it will not end here,” the representative said. “If left unchallenged, this would set a dangerous precedent and give license to states to weaponize their official powers to punish the expression of political viewpoints they disagree with. We are determined to press forward with our case.”
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.