Judge: Florida official overstepped authority in DeSantis effort to stop pro-Palestinian group

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A federal judge refused to take action against Florida on Wednesday in a lawsuit challenging an order to deactivate pro-Palestinian student groups, essentially because nothing has been done to follow through with the directive.

State university Board of Governors Chancellor Ray Rodrigues wrote to university presidents in October at Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ urging, directing them to disband chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine. He said the groups are supporting a terrorist organization based on the national group’s declaration that “Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement, not in solidarity with this movement.”

The American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of the University of Florida Students for Justice in Palestine chapter to prevent deactivation, but Judge Mark Walker denied an injunction because the group is still active. He wrote that Rodrigues overstepped his authority.

“Neither the Governor, nor the Chancellor, nor the BOG (Board of Governors) have the formal power to punish student organizations,” Walker said.

Individual university boards of trustees, which have that power, haven't taken any steps to disband the groups, and Walker said Rodrigues has acknowledged that the student chapters aren't under the control of the national organization.

Walker acknowledged the groups had a reason to feel anxious, especially after DeSantis called them terrorists and falsely proclaimed while campaigning for president that he deactivated the groups. DeSantis has since dropped out of the race.

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This story corrects the judge's name. He is Judge Mark Walker.