Disney challenges free speech case dismissal as DeSantis urges corporation to move ahead.(Part-1)

Orlando, Fla. — Disney challenged a judge's denial of its free speech lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis' retaliatory takeover of Walt Disney World's governing district on Thursday. DeSantis termed any appeal “a mistake.”

“They were wrong and we were right,” DeSantis said during a Jacksonville press conference a day after the judgment. “They should proceed.”

Disney appealed Wednesday's Tallahassee federal judge's verdict, saying it would create a dangerous precedent by allowing states to use their authority to penalize opposing views. In Orlando state court, another challenge regarding district control is proceeding.

Disney claimed that the Republican-controlled Legislature's transfer of power of Disney World's governing district from Disney loyalists to DeSantis appointees was punishment for the company's vocal opposition to the state's "Don't Say Gay" statute. DeSantis, who had used Disney as a punching bag in campaign speeches until he abandoned his 2024 GOP presidential bid, championed the 2022 law, which barred early grade sexual orientation and gender identity lessons.

Disney supporters ran the district, which provides firefighting, planning, and mosquito control, for over 50 years after the Legislature established it in 1967.

U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor dismissed the free speech complaint because Disney lacked standing to sue DeSantis and the secretary of a Florida state agency, and DeSantis' appointments to the Disney World governing district board.

Winsor stated that litigants cannot challenge a constitutional legislation on free speech grounds if they feel lawmakers behaved unconstitutionally. He claimed the statute that redesigned Disney World's district targeted special districts founded before the Florida Constitution's ratification, including Disney and a few others.

Experts disagreed on whether Disney's appeal will succeed, with some saying the appellate court must address an important point highlighted by the judgment and others suggesting the matter should have been settled politically.