- With Republican supermajorities helping Governor Ron DeSantis deliver on his electoral mandate, Democrats and other GOP opponents have turned to the courts as a last line of defense.
- Legal bills are starting to pile up, and Democrats are blaming DeSantis for wasting millions in taxpayer dollars.
- Republican lawmakers have acknowledged that they and DeSantis have pushed the political envelope, but also point to the electoral mandate delivered by voters in November 2022.
- DeSantis and Republicans have also successfully defended against a number of cases, including lawsuits filed by ex-prosecutor Andrew Warren, lawsuits filed in the Martha’s Vineyard migrant workers case, and a recently dismissed lawsuit targeting a GOP effort to promote intellectual diversity on college campuses.
- About $16 million has been allocated this year to pay for litigation defending state policies championed by DeSantis and GOP lawmakers.
After winning the governor’s race in 2022 by a historic margin and winning GOP supermajorities in both the Florida House and Senate, Governor Ron DeSantis and his GOP allies have moved quickly over the last few months to deliver on a slate of campaign promises. But electoral and legislative success isn’t coming cheap.
With virtually no political power in the legislative branch and zero power in the state executive branch, Democrats and other opponents of the new GOP policies are turning to their last line of defense: the judicial branch. There, a handful of Clinton and Obama-era federal judges still exist, complimenting a few newer Biden Administration appointees, providing a glimmer of hope that Democrats can still forestall the recent Republican advances.
But the moves are proving financially costly for taxpayers, and Democrats and media outlets have been quick to point the finger of blame at the GOP, with stories blaming DeSantis for daring to deliver on his mandate. Republicans, meanwhile, are acknowledging the bold nature of the governor’s policies and the laws they’ve passed and accepted the associated litigation as part of the political process.
“We know that some of the things we’re doing in Florida are leading the nation on how we feel about certain issues,” said GOP Senator Doug Broxson, in response to a reporter’s question about the legal funding. “We want the governor to be in a comfortable position to speak his mind, and we’re going to support him on those things.”
Indeed, millions of dollars in taxpayer funds have been spent – $17 million last year, according to the Miami Herald – with another $15.8 million allocated by Republican lawmakers to defend GOP priorities this year. DeSantis’s office is slated to get about $6 million of that figure, up from the $4 million originally asked for.
The 50 percent increase for DeSantis came after news of a new lawsuit filed by the Walt Disney Company became public last month. Disney filed suit when DeSantis and state lawmakers moved quickly to strip the company of its special district status after Disney waded into an unrelated education battle over parental rights in schools. Some Republicans have been critical of the move by DeSantis, arguing that Disney has the right to free speech under the constitution to oppose DeSantis’s policies in public. But others, defending DeSantis’s move, say Disney enjoyed special privileges in Florida that no other company had, and said it was time to level the playing field and strip Disney of its special status which it was using against the state.
While that battle rages, another litigation front opened up last week after DeSantis signed a paycheck protection law that specifically targeted teacher unions with restrictions on dues collections, among other things. The state’s largest teacher and faculty unions banded together and filed a lawsuit in federal court. A day later, several city unions filed a similar lawsuit in state court, also aiming to block the law.
There are also lawsuits pending on a range of other issues, including the Stop-WOKE act and other policies affecting college campuses. And there have also been a number of recently dismissed lawsuits against DeSantis, including one filed by Democrat Andrew Warren after DeSantis relieved him of duty as prosecutor, a lawsuit filed in the Martha’s Vineyard migrant case thrown out by a federal judge, and another lawsuit thrown out that tried to stop a Republican effort to promote at intellectual diversity on college campuses.