Ron DeSantis Slapped With Federal Lawsuit For Violating 1st Amendment Rights

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Andrew Warren, who Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis recently moved to oust as Hillsborough County State Attorney, filed a federal lawsuit against DeSantis on Wednesday challenging the governor’s decision to metaphorically show Warren the door.

DeSantis took action against Warren, who was elected by local voters twice, after the county prosecutor made a pledge against bringing prosecutions connected to a new 15-week abortion ban in the state. Warren never actually altered the course of any real-world case in connection to his views on this matter. His previously stated commitments essentially amounted to general policy statements. At a Wednesday press conference, Warren cast the issue as involving more than just his position. “This morning I filed a suit in federal court to challenge that blatant abuse of power by Governor DeSantis in suspending me as state attorney,” Warren remarked. “There is so much more at stake here than my job.”

Warren’s lawsuit specifically alleges DeSantis violated his rights under the First Amendment. Warren also indicated support for gender-affirming healthcare for transgender individuals, including minors, and — although no law currently exists in Florida blocking transgender minors from receiving such healthcare — DeSantis also pointed to this support on Warren’s part in unveiling the decision to remove Warren. Besides seeking the invalidation of the executive order DeSantis signed for his suspension, Warren also wants governors blocked from undertaking similarly styled actions in the future. The lawsuit also specifically notes how DeSantis didn’t initiate Warren’s removal in response to official action by the state attorney. “No decision on any case ever considered by Warren while in office was impacted by these statements,” Warren’s lawsuit asserts. “Statements of opinion on matters of public debate do not relate to incompetence within the meaning of the Florida Constitution.”

Florida leaders are seeking methods for restricting access to gender-affirming care for transgender minors in the absence of a state law officially establishing a ban, and a Florida healthcare agency recently moved to block Medicaid reimbursements in the state for gender-affirming care across all ages, unveiling a policy change to that effect that becomes active later this month. While gender-affirming healthcare services often entail care for transgender individuals, it’s worth noting that broad category doesn’t, terminology-wise, exclude certain forms of healthcare obtained by people who aren’t transgender.

“It’s not surprising Warren, who was suspended for refusing to follow the law, would file a legally baseless lawsuit challenging his suspension,” DeSantis’ communications director Taryn Fenske said. It’s unclear Warren actually refused in any legally substantive sense to follow the law, no matter public statements he made. While in office, he was never even referred a case for prosecution on abortion-related offenses. Warren already faced conspiratorial criticism from Republicans, who spotlighted support he received from George Soros, and — highlighting the appearance of political corruption underlying DeSantis’s decision — the governor selected Susan Lopez, a member of the right-wing organization known as the Federalist Society, to fill Warren’s position. Does this situation constitute an attempt to use the mechanisms of law to remove an elected political opponent from power?