By Cynthia Hoang-Duong
TAMPA, FL – First Amendment scholars in the United States are supporting former Florida State Attorney Andrew Warren, writing in their amici briefs that FL Gov. Ron DeSantis’ removal of the elected Tampa area prosecutor violated the Constitution and poses a threat to its free speech protections in the First Amendment.
In January, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle held the governor’s suspension of the state attorney was unconstitutional because it infringed on his First Amendment rights and violated the Florida Constitution.
However, the judge claimed he did not have the authority to reinstate the prosecutor. Warren appealed the court’s decision, challenging whether the federal court possesses jurisdiction to reinstate him for an unconstitutional suspension.
The filed amici briefs to the court intended to inform the Eleventh Circuit of Appeals on its review of Warren’s appeal in his lawsuit against DeSantis on May 2 in Montgomery, AL.
The first brief is signed by the Dean of the University of California School of Law, and constitutional law professors from several distinguished law schools in the U.S., including the University of Florida, University of Chicago, University of Michigan and Stetson University.
A second brief was also submitted by the Public Rights Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring that all levels of government protect the rights of their constituents through legal advocacy and other resources.
According to the First Amendment scholars, a federal judge should have reinstated Warren following the court’s conclusion that DeSantis’ suspension of the prosecutor was incentivized by their conflicting ideological positions on public policy and Warren’s political affiliation with Democrats.
The scholars contend, “As the district court acknowledged, Mr. Warren’s suspension was motivated by Governor DeSantis’s interest in ‘bringing down’ a reform prosecutor…who represented an ideological platform and belief system that, in his eyes, contradicted his preferred viewpoint…Such blatant viewpoint discrimination is ‘poison to a free society’ and prohibited under the First Amendment.”
The brief further elaborated on the costs and implications of inaction to remedy the illegal and unjustified suspension.
In effect, the brief noted, the failure to reinstate the state attorney will convey a message to state actors, allowing them to circumvent the democratic process and remove elected officials without regard for transparent political debate, which is explicitly prohibited in the U.S. Constitution.
In its brief to the appellate court, the Public Rights Project centers on the impacts of the removal of an elected official. Because Warren is a twice-elected prosecutor for Tampa/Hillsborough County, the suspension strips the constituents of their voting power to elect officials that represent them.
As such, the organization argues that DeSantis’ conduct is dangerous to democracy because it undermines the authority of prosecutors to exercise their powers in the interest of their residents.
As the brief states, “Florida Governor Ron DeSantis usurped the will of the voters by suspending Warren on false pretenses. Seeking to score political points, DeSantis took out an opponent based on the views he expressed, his perspective on contentious issues, and his overall approach to being a prosecutor. The First Amendment does not permit such an outcome.”
The Public Rights Project further explained that failing to provide relief for the governor’s unconstitutional suspension is detrimental because, by failing to comply with state and federal constitutional standards, the governor undermined their protection of democratic self-government.