Federal Judge Robert Hinkle ruled this week that Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the state Constitution in Florida in booting Andrew Warren from his position as an elected prosecutor in Hillsborough County. However, Hinkle found he was constrained as a specifically federal judge from ordering that Warren be reinstated.
DeSantis already replaced Warren, at least for now, with someone more aligned with his own policy ambitions, which had the effect of imposing his political agenda on voters who specifically rejected it. Among the evidently numerous points of contention was Warren’s past support for a pledge against bringing prosecutions specifically for an abortion. Florida already has a ban on abortions after some 15 weeks, and additional restrictions on the procedure could be forthcoming.
One of the issues with DeSantis using Warren’s statements of opposition to the prospect of bringing charges over abortions to justify removing him from office is that Warren never actually rejected a single, specific case on these rhetorical grounds. Instead, claimed concerns about Warren’s actions were theoretical and based on what might happen in the future, despite the lack of conclusive evidence outlined at trial.
“The Governor violated the First Amendment by considering Mr. Warren’s speech on matters of public concern—the four FJP policies save one sentence—as motivating factors in the decision to suspend him,” Hinkle said on Friday. “The Governor violated the First Amendment by considering Mr. Warren’s association with the Democratic Party and alleged association with Mr. Soros as motivating factors in the decision. But the Governor would have made the same decision anyway, even without considering these things. The First Amendment violations were not essential to the outcome and so do not entitle Mr. Warren to relief in this action.” Although Hinkle found that DeSantis’s violations of the state Constitution were critical to Warren’s eventual removal, the judge also concluded he wasn’t able to provide the relief Warren sought.
“FJP” is a liberal group called Fair and Just Prosecution. Hinkle also observed that 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.” That’s in contrast to the idea his conclusively established policy was to reject criminal prosecutions in cases arising from abortions.
It’s evident based on the now established public record that removing Warren was a topic of discussion in DeSantis’s circles before he even signed his name to the statement outlining opposition to bringing prosecutions in abortion cases. Larry Keefe, an official in the DeSantis administration, said the governor inquired of him around the end of 2021 about elected prosecutors potentially not following the law.
DeSantis, who was re-elected in last year’s midterms, has also faced court challenges over controversial policies of his like restrictions on teaching concepts like white privilege and a demand for annual surveys of the ideological diversity at Florida’s public colleges and universities. The latter policy could lead to intimidation of those on the opposite side of the governor. (A judge at least temporarily suspended the aforementioned teaching restrictions.)