Disney and DeSantis

Attorneys for Governor Ron DeSantis Ask Federal Judge to Dismiss Disney’s Free-Speech Lawsuit

Attorneys for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis are asking a federal judge to dismiss a free-speech lawsuit that was brought against it by The Walt Disney Company. The lawsuit was filed after Governor DeSantis and the Florida state legislature dissolved the former Reedy Creek Improvement District and replaced with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. The new district was very similar to the previous iteration of the district, however, it also saw its board of directors appointed by the Florida Governor. This effectively gives the Governor control over the district. The Governor took over the district after Disney came out against legislation banned classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades in 2022.

The hearing that is happening today in Tallahassee marks the first time that oral arguments for this case are being made in front of U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor. Disney claims that DeSantis used the government to retaliate against it speaking out against the legislation, violating its First Amendment rights. Governor DeSantis’ attorneys are arguing that the case should be dismissed. They claim that Governor DeSantis is immune as he doesn’t enforce the laws that removed supervision of the government from Disney supporters. Because of this, the Governor and other Florida leaders argue that Disney doesn’t have standing to file this lawsuit.

A decision by Judge Winsor could determine the future of the district, including who controls it. The district was originally formed in 1967 to create municipal services for the area around Walt Disney World Resort. It was also tasked with managing the district after its creation. It had the authority and responsibility that was very similar to a county government. The new iteration of the district does most of the same things the original did. Its board of directors are also named in Disney’s lawsuit.

Disney, for its part, is asking Judge Winsor to deny this motion to dismiss by the Governor. The company accuses the Governor and his appointees of using political institutions to punish viewpoints they don’t like. “That premise is not just legally unsupported, it is profoundly un-American,” Disney said in court papers.

The feud between Disney and Governor DeSantis first began last year when Bob Chapek was the CEO of The Walt Disney Company. After initially staying silent on the issue, he led Disney to come out against the legislation, which angered Governor DeSantis. This led initially to a war of words and then legislative action. After the Governor’s new board and governing system took over the district, they then decided to cancel development agreements that had been signed by the previous governing body. At this point Disney filed the federal lawsuit against Governor DeSantis and other Florida leaders. There is also a state lawsuit that was filed against Disney to attempt to wrestle control of the district as well.

Since the new leadership took over the now Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, over 10% of the 370-employees that worked in the district have left their jobs. Many have said in their exit interviews that the district is now politicized and permeated with cronyism.

Daps Magic has been covering this issue since it first appeared in 2022. Below is a look at how this story progressed: