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Disney Challenges Dismissal of Free Speech Suit

The Walt Disney Company is not backing down after a federal judge dismissed its free speech lawsuit, promptly filing an appeal against what it perceives as Governor Ron DeSantis’ retaliatory actions.

The legal battle, centered on the control of Walt Disney World’s governing district, has escalated tensions, with Disney arguing the move sets a perilous precedent, potentially allowing states to misuse their power against dissenting voices.

DeSantis Urges Disney to ‘Move On’

Florida’s Governor DeSantis, commenting a day after the dismissal, suggested Disney should accept the decision and move forward.

“They should move on,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Jacksonville a day after the ruling.

However, Disney’s decision to appeal reflects its commitment to contesting what it views as a direct attack on its free speech rights, especially in light of the company’s opposition to Florida’s contentious “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The Core of the Dispute

Disney’s stance is that the legislation, championed by DeSantis, was a punitive response to the company’s criticism of the state law limiting classroom discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The company has long maintained control over the district, a relationship established since its creation in 1967, overseeing essential municipal services from firefighting to planning.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor argued that Disney’s claims lacked standing and merit, stating that constitutional laws cannot be challenged on the grounds of assumed legislative motives. The ruling has ignited a debate among legal experts regarding the implications of the decision and the viability of Disney’s appeal.

A Political or Legal Issue?

The dispute’s nature, whether it should be resolved through legal channels or seen as a political confrontation, remains a point of contention. Critics argue that Disney may have misstepped by seeking a legal solution to what is fundamentally a political disagreement, a sentiment echoed by scholars like Richard Foglesong.

However, Orlando attorney Jacob Schumer underscores the significant legal questions the appellate court must address, particularly concerning laws that indirectly target specific entities.

“I still think that they’ll be uncomfortable leaving in a loophole that basically says you can freely retaliate for speech through specifying a party via objective criteria rather than by name,” Schumer said of the appellate court.

As the legal skirmish continues, Disney also faces challenges in state court, where agreements transferring control over certain Disney World operations to the company, made by the previous board, are contested by DeSantis’ appointees.

Disney’s counterclaims and the request for a pause in the state court proceedings signify its determination to defend its interests and maintain its longstanding influence over its iconic theme park’s governance.

With information from AP News

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