DeSantis wins as judge dismisses Disney’s lawsuit against him

DeSantis wins as judge dismisses Disney's lawsuit against him
A statue depicting Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse in front of the Cinderella Castle at Disney World's Magic Kingdom on Saturday, June 3, 2023 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.Getty Images

A US judge has sided with Florida governor Ron DeSantis in his fight with Disney, rejecting a lawsuit that had accused the Republican of organising a campaign of “government retaliation”.

Judge Allen Winsor said the actions that Disney opposed were legal and it lacked standing to sue the governor.

Florida moved to tighten its oversight of Disney’s amusement park last year.

The change came after the company criticised a state law that limited the teaching of sexuality in schools.

In his ruling Judge Winsor said the changes were clearly detrimental to Disney, which had enjoyed unusual power over the special tax district where its Walt Disney World park is located since 1967.

They gave Mr DeSantis the power to appoint members to the district’s governing board, removing that authority from landowners in the 25,000-acre district, of which Disney is by far the biggest.

But the judge said state legislators had the right to make the changes and the company had failed to prove it faced any imminent harm from the governor.

In dismissing the suit, the judge wrote that courts cannot rule that a law is unconstitutional solely because lawmakers may have had an “illegitimate motivation” in enacting it.

“Because that is what Disney seeks here, its claim fails as a matter of law,” he wrote.

Disney said it would press forward with its case, which had argued that the moves threatened its business and violated its free speech rights.

“This is an important case with serious implications for the rule of law, and it will not end here,” the company said.

“If left unchallenged, this would set a dangerous precedent and give license to states to weaponize their official powers to punish the expression of political viewpoints they disagree with.”

The dispute between Disney and Mr DeSantis began last year as the Republican was preparing to launch his campaign for president.

Mr DeSantis dropped out of the race this month, after a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses.

He did not immediately comment on the decision.

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By David Ryckman