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A federal judge dismisses Disney's lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

A federal judge dismissed the Walt Disney Company's lawsuit against Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis. Disney sued after DeSantis and state lawmakers removed its self-governing status in 2023. This handout photo provided by Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., shows the Cinderella Castle inside Magic Kingdom Park.
Olga Thompson
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Walt Disney World Resort via Getty Images
A federal judge dismissed the Walt Disney Company's lawsuit against Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis. Disney sued after DeSantis and state lawmakers removed its self-governing status in 2023. This handout photo provided by Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., shows the Cinderella Castle inside Magic Kingdom Park.

MIAMI — A federal judge has dismissed the Walt Disney Co.'s lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Disney sued after DeSantis and state lawmakers removed the company's self-governing status in 2023.

Backed by Republican lawmakers, DeSantis dissolved a special district near Orlando that for more than 50 years had governed Walt Disney World. He acted after Disney's CEO opposed a law limiting how sexual orientation and gender identity can be discussed in schools. The Parental Rights in Education Act was labeled "Don't Say Gay" by opponents.

At DeSantis' request, Florida's Republican-controlled legislature created a new special district, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, controlled by the Republican governor's appointees. Disney sued in federal court, saying DeSantis was retaliating against the company, punishing it for exercising its First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Disney also canceled plans for a $1 billion campus in Florida.

In a 17-page order, U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor dismissed the case, saying Disney lacks standing to sue the governor. The judge also said that while Disney could sue the new DeSantis-appointed board, it hadn't shown evidence that actions by the new board had harmed the company. In addition, Winsor said the law prohibits plaintiffs from bringing a free speech challenge to constitutionally enacted laws.

A DeSantis spokesman hailed the decision, saying, "the Corporate Kingdom is over. The days of Disney controlling its own government and being placed above the law are long gone. ... Disney is still just one of many corporations in the state, and they do not have a right to their own special government."

Disney says it will "press forward with its case." In a statement after the ruling, a company spokesperson said, "If left unchallenged, this would set a dangerous precedent and give license to states to weaponize their official powers to punish the expression of political viewpoints they disagree with."

Disney and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District's board are also embroiled in lawsuits in state court.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.
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