Judge Blocks Ron DeSantis’ ‘Woke Act’ For 1st Amendment Violation

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Florida federal Judge Mark Walker has, for a second time in just about three months, imposed a block on a law signed by Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis that restricts the discussion in educational and workplace environments of ideas maligned by conservatives.

Walker’s earlier ruling against the law came in response to a lawsuit from a company called Honeyfund, which provides a platform for wedding registries. Under the terms of the original legislation, a company with 15 or more employees who provided diversity training to staff that contradicted the ideological preferences outlined in DeSantis’s bill could face civil litigation, which can end with financial penalties if plaintiffs are successful. The entire legislative push is noteworthy in light of the essentially obsessive push by conservatives in favor of free speech. How does a law outright banning certain forms of speech square with that ambition?

“The bill specifies that subjecting any individual, as a condition of employment, membership, certification, licensing, credentialing, or passing an examination, to training, instruction, or any other required activity; or subjecting any K-20 public education student or employee to training or instruction, that espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels such individual to believe the following concepts constitutes an unlawful employment practice or unlawful discrimination,” a state legislative summary says. The list of restricted ideas includes that “Members of one race, color, national origin, or sex are morally superior to members of another race, color, national origin, or sex,” which in a strict sense is not actually being widely promoted. Also included, however, were more basic concepts like white privilege and affirmative action.

The legislation allows an “objective” discussion of restricted ideas, but the definition of objectivity was among the issues that has come up during court proceedings. In more recent proceedings, the Florida legal team argued that objective discussions necessarily entail direct criticism of the targeted concepts, which isn’t what the impartiality associated with so-called objectivity normally means. The position of the DeSantis administration and the Republican allies in the legislature who approved this legislation appears to be that affirmative action constitutes intolerable discrimination against those who aren’t targeted by the action, even if that category or group — like, say, white people — has been prioritized in many other public and private policy decisions over and over again, providing them with an objectively documented advantage.

This is the same approach the DeSantis team took to redistricting, in which a northern U.S. House district currently represented by a Black Democrat was substantially reshaped, helping lead to that Democratic Congressman’s recent defeat in this year’s midterm elections.