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Disney Pushes Back on DeSantis’ Request to Disqualify Judge in Free Speech Case


Disney on Thursday backed down on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) request that the federal judge in his First Amendment case against the governor be disqualified because of several earlier remarks made in court.

The company — which is suing DeSantis over what it describes as a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” for speaking out against Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law — argued that DeSantis has failed to meet the “high bar” required to disqualify the judge.

DeSantis’ lawyers pointed to remarks Chief Judge Mark Walker of the U.S. District Court for Northern Florida previously made about the governor’s feud with Disney in two unrelated cases.

However, Disney argued that both cases represent “year-old hypothetical questions” based on “widely publicized statements” that “did not draw any conclusions about those statements.”

“The two comments cited by the defendant provide no basis on which a reasonable, fully informed person could perceive any risk—much less a significant risk—that the court’s mind is closed and that it is incapable of a just and dispassionate examination of the legal and factual issues in this case,” reads Thursday’s filing.

The company also suggested that Walker’s rulings in the two cases, both of which he dismissed in favor of the DeSantis administration, indicate he remains impartial.

DeSantis, who announced his long-awaited campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination on Wednesday, has been embroiled in the feud with Disney for over a year.

After the company voiced its opposition to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law last year, DeSantis signed legislation to remove Disney’s self-governing status and appointed a new board to oversee the district.

Shortly before the DeSantis-appointed board took over, the former Reedy Creek Improvement District board signed an agreement giving Disney full development authority over its parks.

The company filed suit last month after the board of the newly created Central Florida Tourism District moved to declare the agreement void.

“A targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech — now threatens Disney’s business operations, endangers its economic future in the region and violates its constitutional rights,” the original complaint alleged.

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