Walt Disney World has appealed a judge’s dismissal of its free speech lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis over the state’s takeover of the Disney World governing district. Disney argued that the legislation transferring control from Disney supporters to DeSantis appointees was in retaliation for the company opposing the state’s “Parents’ Rights in Education” law. The law banned discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity in early-grade classrooms. A separate lawsuit over control of the district is still pending in state court in Orlando.
In response to the appeal, Governor DeSantis called it a “mistake” and suggested that Disney should move on. Disney contends that the legislation sets a dangerous precedent by allowing states to weaponize their powers to punish opposing viewpoints.
The federal judge in Tallahassee dismissed Disney’s free speech case, stating that the company lacked standing with its claims against DeSantis and a state agency secretary. The judge also noted that the law on its face was constitutional and did not specifically target Disney by name. Instead, it applied to special districts created before the ratification of the Florida Constitution, which included the Disney district.
The ruling raised questions about whether the law was singling out an entity indirectly, even if not named directly, and whether the motives behind the legislation were unconstitutional. Some experts believe that the appeal will have to address this question at the appellate court, while others suggest that the dispute should have been resolved politically instead of through litigation.
The legal battle is part of a larger controversy surrounding Disney World’s governing district, which underwent a change in leadership from Disney allies to DeSantis appointees. Disney supporters on the district board had signed agreements with the company, shifting control over design and construction at Disney World. The new DeSantis appointees argued that these agreements limited their powers, leading to further legal disputes.
Disney has also requested a six-month pause in a state court lawsuit related to the district, citing difficulties in conducting depositions and obtaining documents from the DeSantis-controlled district.