DeSantis won a round in his ‘woke wars,’ but voters lost when he suspended a prosecutor
Gov. Ron DeSantis may have technically won the lawsuit over his suspension of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren last year — yet another fight in the governor’s endless “woke wars” — but the voters of Florida lost, big time.
U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle dismissed the case Friday, but said in a strongly worded ruling that DeSantis had violated both the Florida Constitution and the First Amendment when he suspended Warren on Aug. 4 on grounds he had neglected his duties by refusing to enforce state laws.
That bears repeating: A federal judge said the governor of Florida broke state and federal law, violating both the Florida Constitution — which he is sworn to uphold — and the First Amendment. This is not small stuff.
But what is the penalty? Very little, it seems. Hinkle said a federal court couldn’t even reinstate Warren, though he called on the governor to do so. Like that’s going to happen.
A REFORMER TARGETED
The suspension was clearly aimed at snapping back a progressive prosecutor, as the judge noted in the ruling. It probably didn’t even matter which one, as long as it served the governor’s agenda.
“The Governor did what he had been looking to do,” Hinkle wrote. “He took down a reform prosecutor.”
It’s true that Warren had signed a letter — along with dozens of other prosecutors from across the country — pledging to refrain from prosecuting people who seek or provide abortions. Warren also signed another letter vowing “to use our discretion and not promote the criminalization of gender-affirming healthcare or transgender people.”
In the suspension, the governor also cited Warren’s policies discouraging prosecution of certain low-level misdemeanors and cases arising from police stops of bicyclists — “biking while Black,” in other words.
The judge found that DeSantis based the suspension in part on Warren’s conduct, rather than a free speech issue. That means the governor had grounds for dismissal — even if the entire episode was a thinly veiled form of political interference.
And it was. Hinkle didn’t even bother to mince words on that.
“The record includes not a hint of misconduct by Mr. Warren,” Hinkle wrote. “So far as this record reflects, he was diligently and competently performing the job he was elected to perform, very much the way he told voters he would perform it. He had no blanket nonprosecution policies. Any minimally competent inquiry would have confirmed this. The assertion that Mr. Warren neglected his duty or was incompetent is incorrect. The factual issue is not close.”
If this whole thing wasn’t just
about politics, the governor should put Warren back to work, the judge added.
“If the facts matter, the governor can simply rescind the suspension. If he does not do so, it will be doubly clear that the alleged nonprosecution policies were not the real motivation for the suspension.”
In case you’ve forgotten, the governor announced the suspension at a Tampa news conference with the air of a campaign rally — if campaign rallies included a whole lot of lawenforcement officers standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the governor. That night, the ruling notes, DeSantis went on Tucker Carlson’s nationally syndicated show.
The ruling also says the governor’s office calculated that 14 days of free media coverage after the suspension had a value of about $2.4 million.
Warren said Friday that, “This is not over.”
He also said that the case is larger than just one person, that it is about free speech, the integrity of elections and the rule of law, and noted that the judge called for rescinding the suspension.
“Let’s see if the governor actually believes in the rule of law,” Warren said. “Let’s see if the governor actually is a man of his word.”
When the legal smoke clears, we are left with this deeply disturbing thought: The governor removed a duly elected official from office largely because he didn’t like the prosecutor’s politics. That nullifies an election, thwarts the will of the people and allows DeSantis to substitute his judgment for that of the people.
If that’s not chilling, we don’t know what is.