Disney accuses Ron DeSantis of ‘constitutional mutiny’ in new court filing

Disney (DIS) accused Florida Governor Ron DeSantis of “ongoing constitutional mutiny” in a new court filing on Monday, marking yet another development in the back-and-forth saga between the media giant and the Republican presidential candidate.

“Governor DeSantis and his allies are engaged in an ongoing constitutional mutiny,” Disney wrote in its latest filing in the company’s federal case against DeSantis, which it launched earlier this year. “They openly reject the foundational First Amendment rule that a state cannot deploy its official powers to punish the expression of disfavored political viewpoints.”

“Consistent with that outlook, their motion to dismiss rests explicitly on the premise that states are free to wield the ‘structure and composition’ of representative political institutions as cudgels against those who express opinions not acceptable to the ruling party,” the filing continued. “That premise is not just legally unsupported, it is profoundly un-American.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to Yahoo Finance’s request for comment.

The ongoing political firestorm, which has seen multiple lawsuits and countersuits from both parties, stems from what Disney characterizes as a politically targeted response over Disney’s reaction to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law. The law, the Parental Rights in Education Act, forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade.

In 2022, then-Disney CEO Bob Chapek condemned the law at the company’s annual shareholder meeting after initially declining to speak publicly on the matter.

In response, DeSantis signed a bill into law that allowed him to take control of the company’s long-standing special tax district, previously known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID), which authorized Disney to operate as a self-governing entity since its inception.

Disney, in addition to paying property taxes to Orange and Osceola counties, paid taxes directly to Reedy Creek. In turn, the district used that money to fund Disney’s various theme park projects and operations, including infrastructure upkeep.

That meant Disney controlled all of its utilities and infrastructure, set building codes, operated its own police and fire departments, and could expand and grow whenever it wished — all without local or state government interference.

DeSantis removed Disney’s hand-picked RCID board members, and Florida lawmakers retroactively invalidated the agreement between Walt Disney World and the district. DeSantis then appointed five new people to call the shots and rebranded the district as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during a press conference at Christopher Columbus High School on Monday, March 27, 2023, in Miami. Disney accused Florida Governor Ron DeSantis of “ongoing constitutional mutiny” in a new court filing on Monday. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

DeSantis, now running for the Republican nomination for president, wants to end his longtime feud with Disney. He, along with his board members, filed a motion to dismiss Disney’s case — which Disney passionately urged the court to reject.

“Having publicly boasted about orchestrating a secret plan to punish Disney for its comments on public affairs and to exercise continuing control over its entertainment programming, the Governor now seeks desperately to avoid any official responsibility for those acts,” Disney’s legal team said in a separate brief also filed on Monday.

The company added it’s an “especially prominent target of the State’s attacks on free speech, one with the resources to hold the State accountable for its wrongdoing.”

“But if the State’s strategy succeeds, Disney will assuredly not be the last entity punished for espousing disfavored viewpoints. If the line is not drawn here, there is no line at all,” the company warned.

In June, Florida state Attorney General Ashley Moody argued immunity for DeSantis and other officials, filing a motion that the governor was protected from Disney’s claims under the doctrine of legislative immunity, which insulates lawmakers from litigation over actions taken within their “sphere of legislative activity.”

Disney said the governor should be denied immunity, calling his actions “openly retaliatory.”

“They contend that a legislature’s retaliatory motive is exempt from judicial scrutiny even if it is publicly expressed and undiluted by other statements of lawful intent. And they similarly contend that courts are categorically barred from examining the basis on which government institutions are established and structured, even if an unlawful objective is publicly declared,” the company said in its filing.

“Those contentions are as wrong as they sound. For the reasons set forth in this memorandum, the motion should be denied.”

Alexandra Canal is a Senior Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @allie_canal, LinkedIn, and email her at [email protected].

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