Disney pushes back on DeSantis’s request that judge be disqualified in free speech case

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Disney pushed back on Thursday on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) request that the federal judge in its First Amendment case against the governor be disqualified over several previous remarks made in court.

The company — which is suing DeSantis over what it describes as a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” for speaking out against Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law — argued that DeSantis has failed to reach the “high bar” required to disqualify the judge.

DeSantis’s attorneys pointed to remarks that Chief Judge Mark Walker for the U.S. District Court in Northern Florida previously made about the governor’s feud with Disney in two unrelated cases.

However, Disney argued that both instances represent “year-old hypothetical questions” based on “widely-publicized statements” that “did not make any findings about those statements.”

“The two comments defendants cite provide no basis on which a reasonable, fully-informed person could perceive any risk—much less a significant risk—that the Court’s mind is closed and that it is incapable of fair and dispassionate inquiry into the legal and factual issues in this case,” Thursday’s filing reads.

The company also suggested that Walker’s rulings in the two cases, both of which he dismissed in favor of the DeSantis administration, indicate that he remains impartial.

DeSantis, who announced his long-anticipated campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination on Wednesday, has been engaged in the feud with Disney for over a year.

After the company voiced its opposition to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law last year, DeSantis signed legislation to take away Disney’s self-governing status and appointed a new board to oversee the district.

Shortly before the DeSantis-appointed board took over, the previous board of the Reedy Creek Improvement District signed an agreement giving Disney full developmental authority over its parks.

The company filed suit last month, after the board of the newly formed Central Florida Tourism District took action to declare the agreement void.

“A targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech — now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights,” the original complaint alleged.

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