The Obama-appointed judge who oversaw Disney’s lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis resigned Thursday over a relative’s possession of 30 Disney shares.
The case was referred to Judge Allen C. Winsor, a President Trump-appointed judge who previously upheld the state’s parental rights in education law. This law, known to its critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, is at the heart of the Disney-DeSantis controversy.
Disney sued DeSantis in April, saying the state had launched a retaliatory campaign against the company for opposing the bill. The state abolished the Disney Special Administrative Region of Orlando and then restored it under the control of five DeSantis-appointed members.
Disney has argued that the state tried to fine the company for protected speech and is trying to overturn the state’s actions.
The lawsuit was originally assigned to Judge Mark E. Walker, who President Obama appointed as judge in 2012.
DeSantis’ attorneys sought Walker’s removal, arguing that his previous statements in other cases showed he may be biased against the governor. In one case, the judge found that Disney could potentially lose its special status because it “arguably” “violated state policy.”
Disney’s attorneys, led by Daniel Petrocelli, argued that this was far from enough to warrant a disqualification.
Walker agreed with Disney and on Thursday denied DeSantis’ request, saying it was “completely baseless.”
“In fact, I find the motion to be nothing more than rank judge shopping,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, this practice has become all too common in this county.”
However, Walker also pointed out that his relative owns Disney stock and therefore has an ethical obligation to step down.
The case instead goes to Winsor, who previously served as Florida Attorney General. In that capacity, he defended the state law prohibiting same-sex marriage in 2014.
In February, Winsor dismissed a lawsuit by students and parents alleging that the Parents’ Rights in Education Act caused schools to remove LGBTQ-themed books from libraries and LGBTQ lyrics from school musicals.
This lawsuit was filed by Roberta Kaplan, who won a landmark gay rights case in the US Supreme Court, US v. Windsor, in 2013. In the Florida case, she argued that the law violated the First Amendment, the Equal Treatment Clause, and Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in education.
Winsor twice dismissed the lawsuit, ruling both times that the plaintiffs had failed to show that they suffered enough damage to sue in federal court.
“Plaintiffs have expressed a strong opposition to the new law and have submitted facts showing that its very existence causes them deep distress and disappointment,” Winsor wrote. “But to invoke federal jurisdiction, they have to assert more. If they don’t, a dismissal is required.”
Walker, the Obama-appointed judge, had previously ruled against DeSantis in high-profile cases. In November, he blocked the enactment of a law against the “woke” ideology in state universities.
Walker also lifted states’ voting restrictions last year, noting that the state had a “horrible history of racial discrimination in voting.” DeSantis called the verdict “performative partiality” and appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned Walker’s verdict earlier this year.
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