DeSantis Defeats Suit by Prosecutor He Ousted Over Abortion

(Bloomberg) -- Ron DeSantis scored a legal and political victory as a federal judge declined to reinstate a prosecutor the Florida governor suspended for saying he wouldn’t bring criminal charges under the state’s 15-week abortion ban.

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US District Judge Robert L. Hinkle in Tallahassee ruled that while the governor clearly violated the state and US constitutions, the federal court lacks the authority to overturn the suspension.

The ruling Friday comes as the US presidential race starts to heat up. The 44-year-old governor, who sailed to reelection last year, is widely seen as a leading Republican contender against former President Donald Trump for the White House should he seek his party’s nomination. Trump already announced his candidacy for a third run for president.

In dismissing the lawsuit that state prosecutor Andrew Warren filed against DeSantis to get his job back, Hinkle wrote that the governor had clearly violated Warren’s First Amendment rights under the US Constitution by targeting him based on his public statements.

He found that DeSantis had breached the Florida Constitution, too, as there was “not a hint of misconduct” by Warren in office and it was clear that the prosecutor “was diligently and competently performing the job he was elected to perform.”

Still, Hinkle said, as a federal judge his hands were tied. The US Constitution’s 11th Amendment “prohibits a federal court from awarding declaratory or injunctive relief of the kind at issue against a state official based only on a violation of state law,” he wrote.

Warren said that it was clear his suspension was a “political stunt” intended to serve as an anecdote in the governor’s stump speech while on the campaign trail.

“The idea that a governor can break federal and state law to suspend an elected official should send shivers down the spine of anyone who cares about free speech, the integrity of our elections or the rule of law, three core principles on which our democracy is built,” Warren said in a statement issued after the judge ruled.

Read More: DeSantis Sued by Prosecutor Suspended Over Abortion Ban

The judge did find that other factors had spurred DeSantis to act. He said it was clear that the governor and members of his staff were motivated by a desire to remove a prosecutor whose performance in office didn’t align with their “law-and-order” agenda. He said it didn’t matter whether Warren had actually adopted a policy against prosecuting cases under the state’s abortion ban.

“The governor would have made the same decision anyway, even without considering these things,” Hinkle wrote. “The First Amendment violations were not essential to the outcome and so do not entitle Mr. Warren to relief in this action.”

After the US Supreme Court in June ended federal constitutional protections for abortion, Warren joined a group of local prosecutors across the country in signing a statement pledging to “refrain from prosecuting those who seek, provide, or support abortions.”

DeSantis removed him from his position in August.

Some legal experts had predicted that DeSantis would have an advantage in his battle with Warren, a Democrat. Florida law grants governors wide latitude in using their executive authority to remove state officials, and courts in the state have been deferential to this authority in other cases.

The case is Warren v. DeSantis, 22-cv-00302, US District Court, Northern District of Florida (Tallahassee).

Read More

  • They Pledged Not to Prosecute Abortions. The Reality Is Tougher

  • DeSantis Ignores Trump, Touts Florida Victory at Donors Event

  • DeSantis Has Advantage in Battle Over Prosecutor’s Suspension

--With assistance from Michael Smith.

(Adds statement from prosecutors and details from ruling.)

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