DeSantis’ motion said Walker referred to an ongoing dispute between his administration and Disney during hearings in two unrelated cases before him over fear of retaliation and free speech for violating new laws pushed by DeSantis and Republican lawmakers. One of them was a First Amendment lawsuit filed by Florida professors, which challenged a new law establishing a survey of “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on state campuses.
Walker, who was nominated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama in 2012 and is now the district’s chief judge, tossed the case on the grounds that the professors lacked standing to challenge the law supported by DeSantis and Florida lawmakers.
In the first case, Walker said, “For example, what’s on the record — is there anything on the record that says we’re going to take away Disney’s special status now because they’re awake?”
In the second case, the judge said, “Disney is then going to lose its status because — arguably, because they made a statement — that violated the controlling party’s state policy,” according to DeSantis’ motion.
Disney and DeSantis have been locked in a tug-of-war for more than a year, drawing criticism from the GOP governor as he prepares to launch his expected presidential bid next week.
The fight began after Disney, facing considerable pressure, publicly defied the government over lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary grades, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics.
As punishment, DeSantis took over Disney World’s self-governing district through legislation passed by lawmakers and appointed a new board of supervisors. Before the new board came in, the company signed contracts with the old board, stripping the new supervisors of design and construction authority.
In response, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature passed legislation allowing a panel appointed by DeSantis to void those contracts and subject the theme park resort’s monorail system to a state review.
Disney filed a First Amendment lawsuit against DeSantis and a group appointed by Disney last month in federal court in Tallahassee, which came to Walker’s court. A group appointed by Disney sued Disney in state court in Orlando earlier this month, seeking to void the company’s contracts with the previous group.
Disney’s creation of a self-governing district by the Florida legislature was instrumental in the company’s decision to build near Orlando in the 1960s. Disney told the state at the time that it planned to create a futuristic city that would include transportation system and urban planning innovations, so the company needed autonomy. However, Future City never materialized, instead becoming a second theme park that opened in 1982.