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DeSantis Goes After Courts Over Rights-Infringing Orders

DeSantis Goes After Courts Over Rights-Infringing Orders

Ron DeSantis really, really, really doesn’t like to take “no” for an answer from the courts. On Wednesday the Republican Florida governor, who had just been told he can’t restrict the rights of Floridians to peacefully protest, filed an emergency appeal demanding that he be allowed to prevent schools in his state from mandating the wearing of masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

DeSantis, who likes to portray himself as an advocate for “freedom,” is asking the First District Court of Appeals in Florida to permit him to prevent school districts throughout the state from requiring students, teachers and staff to wear face coverings to combat the coronavirus, which has ravaged his state for the past month. As a way of coercing school districts to capitulate to his anti-scientific order, DeSantis is withholding state funds from educators who insist on people wearing masks in their facilities.

Second Circuit Judge John Cooper already has ruled against DeSantis, saying that he overreached his authority when he issued an executive order in late July directing the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Department of Health to issue emergency rules giving parents a choice on whether their children should wear masks in class. More than a dozen Florida school districts have defied his order and implemented mask mandates without parental opt-out provisions.

The ruling on DeSantis’s coveted ban on mask mandates was followed Thursday by a federal judge’s ruling that the governor cannot enforce an “anti-riot” law he recently enacted. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee found that the measure is “vague and overbroad” and amounted to an assault on First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly as well as the Constitution’s due process protections.

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The governor’s lawyers claim the law continues to allow peaceful protest but is an effort to draw a sharp distinction between that and a violent riot. Judge Walker was not persuaded.

“Because it is unclear whether a person must share an intent to do violence and because it is unclear what it means to participate, the statute can plausibly be read to criminalize continuing to protest after violence occurs, even if the protestors are not involved in, and do not support, the violence,” Walker wrote. “The statute can also be read to criminalize other expressive activity, like remaining at the scene of a protest turned violent to film the police reaction.”

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