Editorial: Appellate court shouldn't block Stop-W.O.K.E. ruling

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Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the "Stop Woke Act" into law in April
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the "Stop Woke Act" into law in April

A federal judge shouldn't be the only way to check a state government that has gone from one-party to one-man rule. But, that's becoming the role of U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, who recently blocked a key part of Gov. Ron DeSantis' "Stop W.O.K.E. Act."

Walker imposed a temporary injunction against the law that in effect bars college and university professors from offering serious instruction on race, racism, gender and other topics in their classrooms. The judge found the state law, unconstitutional, vague and "positively dystopian."

Gov. DeSantis is expected to appeal the ruling to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, where more conservative jurists have overturned Walker's rulings against the Governor involving felony voting rights and election integrity issues. It shouldn't happen in this case. The current law has too many problems.

Florida Capitol Building
Florida Capitol Building

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"The state of Florida's decision to choose which viewpoints are worthy of illumination and which must remain in the shadows has implications for all of us," Walker wrote. "But the First Amendment does not permit the state of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints and cast us all into the dark."

The 139-page ruling cogently explains where the Governor ran afoul of existing legal precedents. Walker — and The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board —believe the law violates the First and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. As Walker put it: "...this court does not get to cherry-pick convenient language to build an analytical framework that is unsupported by binding precedent. Instead, this Court must apply binding Supreme Court and Eleventh Circuit authority."

Officially titled the Individual Freedom Act but nicknamed the Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (W.O.K.E.) Act by the Governor, the law supposedly expands anti-discrimination laws by banning schools, universities and businesses from making students and employees feel guilt or blame for historic wrongs due to their race, sex or national origin. The law allows anyone offended by historical truth or the promotion of diversity and equality to sue, arguing that their civil rights were somehow violated by being made subject to such instruction and initiatives.

Since its passage, the Governor has used the law as a cudgel in a culture war he manufactured to stir support among conservatives and right-wing enthusiasts in what is widely seen as a bid for the Republican Party's nomination for president in 2024.

The law may make Florida, as Gov. DeSantis puts it, "... the place where woke goes to die." Unfortunately, it also makes Florida a state where the truth ceases to be told, as both educators and human resources departments look over their shoulders. How one "protects the open exchange of ideas" through prohibition is beyond us.

What Walker correctly found was that the part of the law affecting colleges and universities amounts to government encroachment on academic freedoms. He concluded that the state overreached in its contention that the First Amendment no longer pertained to faculty members because they were employees of the state. And he found that the majority of the plaintiffs — faculty and students of several state university campuses — would be harmed by the law and had legal standing to oppose it in court.

Bill Cotterell
Bill Cotterell

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During oral arguments, the judge found that the law singled out the concept of affirmative action to the point that it could be discussed as historic fact and condemned as "failed policy" but not viewed favorably by instructors, or guests in class discussions.

"What does this mean in practical terms?" the judge wrote. "Assuming the University of Florida Levin College of Law decided to invite Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to speak to a class of law students, she would be unable to offer this poignant reflection about her own lived experience, because it endorses affirmative action."

As we said, Gov. DeSantis most likely will appeal to the 11th Circuit. But, the appellate judges in Atlanta should be more judicious than with previous decisions by Walker. This ruling is well-founded, upholds the Constitution and warrants approval.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: US Judge's Stop-Woke Act ruling shouldn't be stopped on appeal