Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren over something he said — not something he did.
The move was as divisive as it was decisive, but that’s the field where DeSantis excels. He tolerates no dissent from those who would deviate from his orders. Too often, he seems intent on remaking the “free” state of Florida into a personal fiefdom for himself and his followers.
But unlike many others who crossed paths with the Governor, Warren did more than start looking on LinkedIn for a new gig. He likes the job he was elected to twice before the suspension.
He wants it back.
Like DeSantis, Warren has a law degree.
Unlike DeSantis, Warren believes the First Amendment protects his right to speak against the Governor’s abortion and transgender restrictions. He made that case Wednesday, filing a federal lawsuit to overturn the suspension.
In June, Warren signed a petition with other prosecutors around the country saying he wouldn’t prosecute abortion or transgender cases. He maintains his office had no cases involving either topic since then. That makes DeSantis’ action look like political payback for daring to differ on policy.
In announcing the suspension before what looked like an old-style campaign rally, DeSantis used the words “incompetency” and “neglect of duty” to describe Warren.
But, Warren argues, how could he neglect something that never happened? That’s a potentially important distinction.
His lawsuit states, “By his Order, the Governor has suspended Warren for alleged ‘incompetence’ and ‘neglect of duty.’ These terms have plain meanings that the courts have defined and that are not malleable at the whim of DeSantis.”
DeSantis sure seems to spend a lot of time and money defending controversial — and maybe illegal — laws and mandates.
“In our country, there are protections for freedoms and limits on power. Ron DeSantis may not like them. He may not respect them. But he does have to follow them,” Warren said.
Florida law clearly lays out the duties of State Attorneys.
Among other things, it says, “The state attorney shall appear in the circuit and county courts within his or her judicial circuit and prosecute or defend on behalf of the state all suits, applications, or motions, civil or criminal, in which the state is a party” with a few exceptions.
However, the First Amendment is also clear.
It says Congress can pass no law “abridging the freedom of speech,” which means neither Florida nor DeSantis can do that either.
As a Congressman in 2013, DeSantis introduced the James Madison Congressional Accountability Act to stop aspects of Obamacare.
He also noted in a 2018 Facebook post that as one of the Founding Fathers, Madison was a champion of freedom.
“America has set the example,” Madison said, “… of charters of power granted by liberty.”
DeSantis clearly admires and studied Madison. So, I’m sure he knows what else Madison favored.
In his essay for the National Review, writer Jay Cost said Madison believed freedom of speech was essential.
“In Madison’s view, a free republic depends ultimately upon public opinion. A Constitution could divide power this way and that, but in the end, it is the people, and only the people, who rule,” he wrote.
“And for the people to rule wisely, they have to be able to communicate with one another — freely, without fear of reprisal.”
Isn’t reprisal what this is all about?