| 19 May 2024, Sunday |

Judge rules for Florida’s DeSantis against prosecutor for abortion stance

A federal judge ruled on Friday that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is thought to be a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2024, will not be compelled to reinstate an elected state prosecutor he suspended because of his promise not to bring criminal charges against people who seek or provide abortions.

Andrew Warren, a Democrat, sued to be reinstated as the state attorney’s office in Tampa, but U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in the state capital of Tallahassee dismissed his claim. Warren was prohibited by DeSantis from carrying out any official “act, responsibility, or function of public office” on August 4.

Hinkle found that Warren’s suspension violated Florida’s state constitution, but the judge said the U.S. Constitution barred him from issuing a reinstatement order “against a state official based only on a violation of state law.” The court also wrote that “Mr. Warren’s actual performance as a reform prosecutor was conduct, not speech protected by the First Amendment.”

Lawyers for Warren and a DeSantis representative did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Florida law bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The prosecutor, who won re-election in 2020 as the Hillsborough County state attorney, sued DeSantis in August, claiming that the governor retaliated unlawfully against him for political reasons after he joined prosecutors around the country on June 24 in signing a statement vowing not to use their offices to criminalize reproductive health decisions.

A frequent critic of DeSantis, Warren argued in the lawsuit that his abortion stance was protected under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of free speech and that the governor’s action also usurped the authority given to state attorneys under the Florida Constitution.

The lawsuit said the litigation was intended “to confirm that the First Amendment still applies even though DeSantis is the Governor of Florida and that the Constitution of the State of Florida means what the courts say it means, not whatever DeSantis needs it to mean to silence his critics, promote his loyalists, and subvert the will of the voters.”

Hinkle, appointed to his judgeship by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1996, presided over a three-day nonjury trial that began on Nov. 29.

Lawyers for DeSantis argued that the governor suspended Warren from office not over his speech but his conduct as a prosecutor. The governor’s attorneys said DeSantis “construed Mr. Warren’s statements to be either blanket refusals to enforce Florida law or evidence that Mr. Warren was grossly ignorant of his official responsibilities.”

Warren has said his office does not have a blanket policy on not prosecuting abortion-related cases.

  • Reuters