Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis moved Friday to disqualify the federal judge overseeing Disney’s political retaliation lawsuit, alleging the judge’s comments in previous cases raise doubts about his impartiality.
Judge Mark Walker had in two separate cases “offered ‘Disney’ as an example of state retaliation” without being prompted, lawyers for DeSantis said in a court filing.
Those remarks “could reasonably imply that the Court has prejudged the retaliation question” in Disney’s case, they argued. That’s because Disney’s lawsuit alleges that DeSantis led a campaign of political retribution against the company after it criticized his controversial classroom bill, labeled “Don’t Say Gay” by critics.
“Because that question is now before this Court, and because that question involves highly publicized matters of great interest to Florida’s citizens, the Court should disqualify itself to prevent even the appearance of impropriety,” DeSantis’ legal team wrote.
DeSantis’s remarks came on the heels of a meeting with New Hampshire state lawmakers Friday, and he is reportedly preparing to launch his bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination next week.
The governor has sought to wrestle away Disney’s special self-governing status since the company criticized his so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law last year.
The law prohibited classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation for kindergarten through third grade, which has since been expanded to cover prekindergarten through eighth grade.
“They want to have their own government in Disney,” DeSantis said on Friday. “They’ve had their own government for 50 years. It’s massive corporate welfare. We’re not doing that.”
“They’re gonna live under the same laws as everybody else, they’re gonna pay their fair share of taxes and they’re not gonna govern themselves,” he continued. “And to put one corporation on a pedestal and let them be exempt from the laws is not good policy. It’s not free market economics, and it’s not something that our state’s gonna be involved in.”
Disney sued DeSantis last month, alleging the state is harming the company’s business operations. The company also recently announced it is scrapping plans for a billion-dollar office complex in Florida.
Norwegian Cruise Line, headquartered in Miami and one of the largest cruise lines in the world, became mired in a long legal fight with the DeSantis administration over vaccine passports in 2021.
The fight centered on a DeSantis executive order that banned businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccination. The governor had largely pushed a hands-off Covid-19 strategy and said vaccine passports discriminated against the unvaccinated.
Norwegian Cruise Line, however, fought back and sued, claiming that Florida’s rule wasn’t in the best interests of its customers, among other things. The cruise line faced a $5,000 fine for each violation, which could have totaled millions of dollars in penalties if a ship was full of passengers.
At the time of the fight, Norwegian’s CEO Frank Del Rio told Yahoo News: “It’s beyond bizarre. It’s shameful. I mean, come on, give it up. This is a pandemic we are talking about, people are dying every day, Florida now is the epicenter of the epicenter. What does it take for common sense to rule?”
Investors seem to share those concerns. Disney’s stock is down more than 5% this year, while the S&P 500 is up 2%. Rivals such as Comcast (up 16%) parent company Warner Bros. Discovery (up 28%) have rocketed higher.
The news of the Lake Nona cancellation came the same day Disney announced it would shut down its Star Wars hotel, known as the Galactic Starcruiser, which is barely a year old. Fans had immediately balked at the price for the resort, where guests paid around $4,800 to $6,000 per cabin for an immersive two-night experience. That price point proved to be a tough sell, Werner said, and Disney began offering discounts in January.
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