A federal appeals court ruled that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis violated the First Amendment rights of former Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren. In a unanimous decision, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals three-judge panel — including an Obama appointee and a Trump appointee — found that DeSantis, who described Warren as a “Soros-backed” prosecutor, lacked probable cause when he suspended Warren in 2022 for “neglect of duty.” Warren caused controversy by signing a letter indicating his reluctance to prosecute anyone who violates state abortion restrictions or prohibitions against certain types of gender-transition treatment for minors.
The panel stated DeSantis would need to prove that Warren’s actual performance or policies, rather than his expressed intentions, were the cause for the suspension. DeSantis “lacked probable cause to believe Warren neglected his duty or was incompetent,” the court said.
Warren sued DeSantis following his suspension, claiming that it was retaliatory. “This is what we’ve been fighting for from the beginning — the protection of democracy,” Warren posted on X following the ruling. “We look forward to returning to the district court for the relief that has been denied to me and all the voters of Hillsborough County for 17 months: reinstating the person elected by the voters.”
A Tallahassee judge already ruled in January that DeSantis used the issue to benefit his presidential campaign. Trump appointee Judge Kevin Newsom further explained this week:
“The First Amendment is an inconvenient thing. It protects expression that some find wrongheaded, or offensive, or even ridiculous… But for the same reason that the government can’t muzzle so-called ‘conservative’ speech under the guise of preventing on campus ‘harassment,’ the state can’t exercise its coercive power to censor so-called ‘woke’ speech with which it disagrees. What’s good for mine is (whether I like it or not) good for thine.”
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