Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asks judge to toss lawsuit against state's anti-protest law


  • Photo by Matt Lehman for Orlando Weekly

Lawyers for Gov. Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody are asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a measure that the Legislature approved to crack down on violent protests.

Groups such as the Dream Defenders and the Florida State Conference of the NAACP filed the lawsuit last month, contending that the measure (HB 1), which DeSantis signed into law April 19, will have a “chilling” effect on protected speech and violates equal-protection and due-process rights. DeSantis made the issue a priority after nationwide protests last summer following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.

In motions filed this week to dismiss the lawsuit, attorneys for DeSantis and Moody raised a series of arguments, including saying that the measure does not curb free-speech rights of peaceful protesters.

“The act does not discourage, much less prohibit, any person from peacefully assembling, demonstrating, or speaking on any issue,” the brief by DeSantis’ lawyers said. “The act does not even apply to peaceful demonstrations or forms of expression. Rather, it outlaws people coming together, regardless of their motivation, to commit violence, damage property, or intimidate others into assuming or abandoning a viewpoint against their will. Prohibiting violence and destruction does not restrict constitutionally protected expression —- only dangerous, unlawful behavior.”

The case, filed in federal court in Tallahassee, is being handled by Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker and names DeSantis, Moody and three sheriffs as defendants. The law, one of the most-controversial issues of this year’s legislative session, also has drawn a challenge in federal court in Orlando. That lawsuit also is pending.

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