Federal Judge Rules DeSantis Violated the Constitution, Dismisses Lawsuit Anyway
A judge ruled that the Florida governor should not have suspended a Democratic state attorney—but the court will not reinstate him.
A federal judge ruled Friday that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis violated the state Constitution and First Amendment when he suspended an elected Democratic state attorney last year, but the court would not step in and overturn that suspension.
State Attorney Andrew Warren sued DeSantis in August, two weeks after the governor suspended him for alleged “willful defiance of his duty.” DeSantis cited in particular a joint statement Warren signed with other elected prosecutors the day Roe v. Wade was overturned, stating “our firm belief that prosecutors have a responsibility to refrain from using limited criminal legal system resources to criminalize personal medical decisions,” such as abortion or transgender health care.
In his suit, Warren denied explicitly refusing to enforce laws and argued his suspension was political retaliation and a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech. He sought a judge’s order to restore him to office and to bar DeSantis from taking further action against him.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle sided with Warren that his rights had been violated, blasting DeSantis’s argument that the prosecutor had neglected his duty by making blanket promises not to prosecute certain cases.
“Mr. Warren’s well-established policy, followed in every case by every prosecutor in the office, was to exercise prosecutorial discretion at every stage of every case. Any reasonable investigation would have confirmed this,” Hinkle wrote in his ruling. In his opinion, there was “not a hint of misconduct by Mr. Warren.”
But, the judge said, he was unable to restore Warren to office. He argued that the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which restricts individuals from suing states in federal court, tied his hands.
“The Eleventh Amendment prohibits a federal court from awarding … relief of the kind at issue against a state official based only on a violation of state law,” Hinkle said in the ruling.
Not only is it frustrating to watch an elected official break the law and still get away with it, it is also worrying that this case will push DeSantis to go further. The Republican—and current favorite to face off against Donald Trump for the GOP presidential nomination—has gone to war with what he calls “trendy ideologies.”
He signed Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law and pushed the so-called Stop Woke Act, which restricts certain race-based conversations and analyses in colleges. That bill has been temporarily blocked from being implemented. This week, he banned an A.P. African American studies course in schools.
DeSantis getting away with suspending Warren without so much as a slap on the wrist could embolden him to take retaliatory measures against other public officials whom he deems too “woke.”