Opinion Distinguished person of the week: He’s fighting DeSantis’s abuse of power


HR King
May 29, 2001
By Jennifer Rubin

Columnist |
October 16, 2022 at 7:45 a.m. EDT

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has eagerly displayed his contempt for the First Amendment. The Republican punished Disney for objecting to his “don’t say gay” law. He has repeatedly locked the media out of events. And he has set up a system for suing teachers who discuss race in ways he does not like.

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Perhaps one of his most absurd assaults on the freedom of speech is his removal of Hillsborough County prosecutor Andrew Warren for signing on to a letter opposing the “criminalizing” of abortion. Now, Warren is fighting back, and he is threatening to disrupt the Republican governor’s pattern of authoritarian power grabs.
DeSantis claims that he fired Warren because the letter he signed indicated he wouldn’t enforce the law. But as Warren explained in an oped for The Post in August, “In removing me from office, DeSantis offered no examples of specific actions taken by me or my office that broke or ignored the law.” Instead, Warren explained:


The governor cites statements I signed with other prosecutors from around the country regarding gender-affirming care and restrictions on abortion rights, two of his political wedge issues. These are value statements, where I expressed my opposition to laws that I believe violate constitutional rights. Florida’s current 15-week abortion ban was found to violate the Florida Constitution by the first court to review it. And Florida has no criminal law at all regarding medical treatments of gender-affirming care. His allegations of “neglect of duty” and “incompetence” are based not on what I have done but on what he predicts I will do.
Warren filed suit in federal court to fight his suspension without pay, which DeSantis announced at a news conference in early August. “We are not going to allow this pathogen of ignoring the law get a foothold in the state of Florida,” DeSantis stated. “We are going to make sure that our laws are enforced and that no individual prosecutors puts himself above the law.” A slew of former judges, prosecutors and police officials signed on to support Warren.

Not surprisingly, DeSantis is desperately trying to avoid a reckoning. He made a motion to dismiss Warren’s suit, but U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle sternly rejected it. While DeSantis claimed Warren’s declaration in favor of abortion rights “demonstrates both neglect of duty and incompetence,” the judge pointed out that “Florida has no laws criminalizing trans people or gender-affirming health care, and the writing did not include any pledge not to enforce any such laws.”
As for abortion, Hinkle wrote, “Mr. Warren says the commitment to ‘refrain from prosecuting those who seek, provide, or support abortions’ was a promise only to use discretion, not a blanket refusal to prosecute abortion offenses.” That sentence might be the basis of a bench trial, now set for Nov. 29.

The judge also noted during the hearing that DeSantis’s August news conference was “chock-full of general policy disagreements with how Mr. Warren approaches his office.” The judge added that whatever DeSantis’s executive order said, the event clearly showed "the real reason for the removal.” That’s precisely what Warren wants: for a judge to see his firing as a political stunt.
Hinkle warned: “Political loyalty to the Governor is not an appropriate requirement for effective performance of a state attorney’s job.” It is no wonder DeSantis made a motion to make an interlocutory appeal. That failed, too.
Warren told me in a phone interview that the general reaction to his firing in the county has been “outrage.” Some voters have told him they that, even though they voted for DeSantis or wouldn’t vote for Warren when he’s up for election in 2024, DeSantis’s actions “should not happen in a democracy.”

The case boils down to who is in charge: the voters or DeSantis. Warren argues, “The state attorney’s job comes with discretion,” and in Florida, it is the people who elected the prosecutor who should have judgment on that discretion, not the governor. “Don’t the people get to decide in a democracy?” he asks.
DeSantis has been trying to avoid deposition in Warren’s case, but the judge has already said the suit can proceed, meaning DeSantis is not protected by executive privilege. Moreover, DeSantis made the decision to hold a news conference boasting of his decision. He will likely have to explain why — under oath.
Warren is focused on being reinstated and receiving back pay for the time he was suspended. But there are two larger, overarching issues at stake in this case. The first is that when someone disagrees with DeSantis, the governor often uses his power to retaliate. This suit could help put an end to that — or at least give DeSantis second thoughts about squelching dissent in the future. Second, DeSantis has a pattern of championing unconstitutional bills, as he did with his attack on social media companies and his anti-protest bill. A victory for Warren would be a blow to DeSantis’s culture wars.
In short, DeSantis has consistently displayed authoritarian behavior, shredding the First Amendment and bullying state actors to knuckle under to his radical views. For standing up to the bullying and demanding that voters, not DeSantis, pick their county prosecutor, we can say well done, Mr. Warren.