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Disney updates lawsuit after Ron DeSantis presser: Florida governor, ‘without hesitation or prompt,’ just admitted to retaliation

Ron DeSantis

Ron DeSantis (Image via Ron DeSantis/Twitter)

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc. filed an amended version of its lawsuit against Ron DeSantis on Monday citing comments that Florida’s Republican governor made as recently as three days ago about the origins of his allegedly politically motivated “campaign of punishment.”

Disney’s lawsuit maintains that DeSantis has unconstitutionally engaged in viewpoint discrimination to punish Disney for its stated opposition to the Parental Rights in Education Act (a.k.a., the “Don’t Say Gay” law), a bill that barred “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels or in a specified manner.”

Disney asserts that DeSantis and his political allies clearly began efforts to dissolve the special taxing district known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) to punish the company for criticizing the law.

“Governor DeSantis and his allies paid no mind to the governing structure that facilitated Reedy Creek’s successful development until one year ago, when the Governor decided to target Disney,” the lawsuit alleges at its core. “There is no room for disagreement about what happened here: Disney expressed its opinion on state legislation and was then punished by the State for doing so.”

To support the overarching claim of political retaliation, the introduction to Disney’s amended complaint now begins with a DeSantis quote from Friday, May 5: “[T]his all started, of course, with our parents’ rights bill.”

At a press conference marking the end of the legislative session, DeSantis was asked for his response to criticism of his efforts to dissolve the RCID.

“First of all, this all started, of course, with our parents’ rights bill. And the most important thing about all of this is that we won the fight about parents’ rights,” DeSantis answered at around 35 minutes into the press conference. “We won the fight this legislative session to pass great legislation that conflicted with the woke agenda, and we did not see any opposition mounted. And so, in the state of Florida, our political process I think worked well and it was not perverted by one very powerful company, which is I think what most people want.”

The Republican governor then suggested that private businesses should not be allowed to play by different rules.

“A lot of these people didn’t even realize these privileges. I didn’t even realize it,” the governor added of Reedy Creek. “No corporation should have their own government, no one should be exempt from laws that everyone else has to follow, you need to pay taxes and pay off the debts. And that’s what we said from the beginning. The legislature helped bring that into reality.”

“They didn’t like that,” DeSantis said of Disney’s response to his actions, “and so they tried to contract around the will of the legislature by doing this development agreement, by doing these covenants. And so that is what necessitated us to have to — to respond — because it’s a larger issue than even just the self-governance of a company — which is not good.”

DeSantis argued that this dispute is not about the First Amendment but about “Disney’s arrogance.”

“It’s a larger issue of we had the debate in this state. We had the debate last spring. We had the debate during the campaign. And then we brought it in for a landing in the special session at the beginning of February. And they basically said that all that doesn’t really matter, we’re just going to do a deal with ourselves to exempt us from what the legislature just did,” he said.

“Well, that doesn’t work,” DeSantis continued. “And so I think that what the board did to rescind it was right. I think they filed a declaratory action in state court — which I believe they will win — because I think that this development agreement was fatally flawed.”

The updated lawsuit also cited a Newsmax interview from the same day, in which DeSantis likened Disney’s RCID to “corporate welfare.” The suit argued that DeSantis himself linked Disney’s recent silence on issues to his targeting of the company — having “trumpeted” to Newsmax “the unequivocal intent and perceived success of his retribution campaign” against Disney.

“They exercised a lot of political influence in this town and they tried to fight us on things like parents rights and things that are really important to the people of Florida,” DeSantis said in the interview. “We beat ’em on that. We signed the parents’ rights bill, and we’ve expanded protections and we’ve done a lot of stuff to go back and fight woke ideology. Since our skirmish last year, Disney has not been involved in any of those issues. They have not made a peep. That, ultimately, is the most important, that Disney is not allowed to pervert the system to the detriment of Floridians.”

“Clearly, you do not have a First Amendment right to corporate welfare,” he added.

Disney, for its part, has claimed it was “left with no choice but to bring this Complaint asking the Court to stop the State of Florida from weaponizing the power of government to punish private business.”

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.