Donald Trump can beat Ron DeSantis, but turns out the Walt Disney Company can’t.
A federal judge just dismissed the Bob Iger-run corporation’s First Amendment lawsuit against the Florida governor and failed GOP presidential candidate.
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“After a hearing and having carefully considered the parties’ arguments, I now grant both motions,” U.S. District Court Judge Allen Winsor wrote Wednesday, nearly two months after said hearing. The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board, the group that now oversees a swath of Central Florida where Walt Disney World sits, also was a defendant in the case, along with DeSantis and a number of top members of his administration.
“In short, Disney lacks standing to sue the Governor or the Secretary, and its claims against the CFTOD Defendants fail on the merits because when a statute is facially constitutional, a plaintiff cannot bring a free-speech challenge by claiming that the lawmakers who passed it acted with a constitutionally impermissible purpose,” the judge added.
But it ain’t over for the Mouse House.
“This is an important case with serious implications for the rule of law, and it will not end here,” a spokesperson for the company told Deadline this morning. “If left unchallenged, this would set a dangerous precedent and give license to states to weaponize their official powers to punish the expression of political viewpoints they disagree with. We are determined to press forward with our case.”
The DeSantis camp moved fast and hard to celebrate with a victory dance.
“As stated by Governor DeSantis when he signed HB 9-B, the Corporate Kingdom is over,” DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern said Wednesday after the Trump-appointed Winsor’s ruling became public. “The days of Disney controlling its own government and being placed above the law are long gone. The federal court’s decision made it clear that Governor DeSantis was correct: Disney is still just one of many corporations in the state, and they do not have a right to their own special government. In short — as long predicted, case dismissed.”
On the other hand, Martin Garcia, Chairman of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, is ready to move on.
“I’m delighted that this lawsuit, which was nothing more than a distraction, is now behind us,” he said in a statement provided to Deadline. “Our board and the district will now continue to make the appropriate changes to operate and function as an independent government agency to promote transparency and accountability while bringing more prosperity to more people in Florida.”
Being that Judge Winsor tossed the case “without prejudice,” Disney can take another swing at DeSantis with another suit — which it almost certainly will. At the same time, an irony probably not lost on the company, the same judge denied DeSantis and gang’s move to have the nearly year-old lawsuit dismissed in September because Disney filed an amended complaint centering on constitutional issues — the same issues that saw the matter thrown out today.
As recently as October, Disney accused the Florida governor and his team of being engaged in “ongoing constitutional mutiny” for targeting the company over its eventual opposition to the Sunshine State’s parental rights bill, known by detractors as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
In November, Iger told a high-powered NYC crowd that Disney’s suit was about taking a stand for every corporation in today’s America: “The question wasn’t even about the [bill, later law]. It was about does a company have a right to free speech. And if it exercises its right to free speech, it should not face retribution.”
Disney filed the lawsuit last April, after DeSantis championed a law to strip the company of control of the special district that covers its theme parks.
The governor and other Republican lawmakers lashed out at Disney after the studio came out against the parental rights bill in 2022 when Bob Chapek was briefly in charge of the media giant. In the immediate aftermath, lawmakers moved to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the entity that had allowed the company to self-govern its Florida property for more than 50 years. That law was later revised to retain the district but allow the governor to appoint its board members.
With Iger’s return to the CEO seat in late 2022, the battle with DeSantis was said to be “his primary focus,” according to sources close to events.
Once touted as the Great Electoral Hope against ex-Celebrity Apprentice host and former POTUS Trump, for the GOP nomination, DeSantis’ head butts with Disney were seen as a winner with the base – until they weren’t. Mocked by Trump, Joe Biden, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Bill Maher and almost everyone else over the dust-ups, DeSantis also proved a stiff on the campaign trail.
After a less then stellar result at the Iowa caucuses early this year, DeSantis dropped out of the race on January 21 before the New Hampshire primary. At the same time he “suspended” his campaign, DeSantis jumped back on the Trump train and endorsed his one time rival.
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