Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ power to purge elected officials who disagree with him will be challenged in a federal lawsuit filed by a state attorney who has been suspended for “waking up.”
Andrew Warren was fired as prosecutor in Hillsborough on Aug. 4 after saying he would not enforce a new 15-week abortion ban or prosecute providers of gender transition treatment for young people.
In a press conference announcing the suspension, DeSantis, seen as a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, attacked Warren’s “awakened agenda” and “blatant violation of his oath of office” for refusing to enforce the law.
Warren, a twice-elected Democrat, hit back on Wednesday with a lawsuit filed in federal court in Tallahassee. In a Twitter message announced the move, he said he was taking action “against Ron DeSantis’ abuse of power and unlawful suspension.”
In a video message, he added: “The governor has broken two laws. He has violated my First Amendment rights by retaliating against me for speaking out about abortion and transgender rights, and he has violated the Florida Constitution by removing me from office without any legal justification.”
He told reporters: “If the governor is allowed to do this, what is left of democracy? If the governor is allowed to retaliate for speaking out, what is left of the First Amendment?”
DeSantis responded in a statement, saying Warren’s action was groundless.
“Not surprisingly, Warren, who was suspended for refusing to follow the law, would file a legally unfounded lawsuit to challenge his suspension. We look forward to responding in court,” the statement said.
Some analysts have questioned the legality of DeSantis’ move, pointing out that it was based on an action that had not taken place.
In addition, the Orlando Sentinel noted that the governor has taken no action against the so-called “constitutional” sheriffs who say they will not enforce certain gun laws.
He acted in 2019 and suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, a Democrat, for “dereliction of duty”.
Like Warren, Israel — which was criticized for his department’s response to the February 2018 shooting at a Parkland high school that killed 17 people — argued that DeSantis acted unlawfully by overruling voters’ will. He failed to regain his job.
DeSantis has made the issues of the “culture war” a central part of his strategy to win re-election in November and, according to many observers, a likely White House run in two years.
Warren has the support of Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried, two Democrats who are going head-to-head in next Tuesday’s Florida primaries to challenge DeSantis in the fall.
Crist, a former governor and congressman who represents Hillsborough County, called DeSantis “an autocrat who would love to be the dictator of Florida and America afterward.”
Fried, Florida’s agriculture commissioner and the only state-wide elected Democrat, was equally scathing.
“It’s not up to the governor to remove elected officials because he doesn’t agree with their philosophies,” she told Warren supporters in Tampa. “This is a local problem that should have stayed local.”