In the ongoing legal dispute between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Disney, the heart of DeSantis’ defense in the federal First Amendment lawsuit is his belief that as long as an action is “constitutionally valid on its face,” his use of political power, even if perceived as punitive, is legitimate. This stance comes amid the case Disney v. DeSantis, where Disney alleges that DeSantis, acting Florida Department of Economic Opportunity secretary Meredith Ivey, and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District infringed upon its First Amendment rights. This accusation follows the dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a significant jurisdiction for Walt Disney World, seen as a political response.
U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor is currently reviewing arguments from DeSantis’ attorneys to dismiss the lawsuit. They argue DeSantis is immune, referencing a 2015 ruling from the United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit, which held that the constitutionality of a law’s face value supersedes its intent or impact, even if it’s retaliatory. This defense is rooted in the 1968 Supreme Court case United States v. O’Brien, which upheld a law against draft card burning, stating its non-violative nature on the grounds of free speech, regardless of any subsequent First Amendment conflicts.
The case’s outcome is pending as Judge Winsor deliberates. This lawsuit is among several confrontations between DeSantis and Disney, including a state lawsuit involving the Central Florida Tourist Oversight District, which succeeded the now-defunct Reedy Creek Improvement District.
The dissolution of Reedy Creek came after former Disney CEO Bob Chapek opposed DeSantis’ Parental Rights in Education Act, a move paralleled by Disney ceasing political contributions to Florida’s GOP. Meanwhile, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District has been openly critical of Walt Disney World, with board chair Martin Garcia, a DeSantis appointee, accusing former Reedy Creek employees of receiving undue benefits.