Judge sides with DeSantis, tosses pro-Palestinian student groups’ lawsuits

The judge recognized the student groups' fears, but said the groups’ threat of injury was only speculative.

A federal judge ruled Wednesday against chapters of pro-Palestinian college student groups in Florida, backing the DeSantis administration and leaving the door open to possible action against the groups — although that appears unlikely.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker denied a request for a preliminary injunction by chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Florida and the University of South Florida that would have protected the groups.

The judge separately threw out lawsuits the groups had filed against Gov. Ron DeSantis asserting that his administration’s efforts to deactivate the chapters were unconstitutional.

Walker wrote in his decision that deactivation or criminal investigation of the chapters was not imminent. He recognized the fear the student groups said they felt, but because the groups are still standing, he said, the groups’ threat of injury was only speculative.

“As this court has already found, the defendants with legal authority to directly regulate registered student organizations do not intend to deactivate the plaintiff,” Walker wrote.

He added: “This Court does not fault plaintiff’s members for feeling anxious about the fact that the Governor — arguably the most powerful man in Florida — has repeatedly disparaged plaintiff’s members as ‘terrorists’ who support ‘jihad’ and repeated the falsehood that their organization has been ‘deactivated.’” But the anxiety wasn’t enough to justify an injunction, the judge said.

The judge was referring to an Oct. 24 memorandum from Ray Rodrigues, Chancellor of the State University System, instructing that the University of Florida and University of South Florida “must” deactivate the student groups at both schools after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that killed about 1,200 Israelis and resulted in more than 200 being taken hostage.

The judge effectively lauded administrators at UF and USF for balking at the directive from Rodrigues, functioning as a constitutional firebreak against the order to shut down the groups. Lawyers had warned the universities’ administrators that if they deactivated the groups, they could face liability.

“Neither the Governor, nor the Chancellor, nor the [Board of Governors] have the formal power to punish student organizations,” Walker wrote in his decision. “At the time of filing, the University of Florida had taken no steps to deactivate the plaintiff following advice from outside counsel suggesting that deactivation would risk opening the [university’s Board of Trustees] to personal liability.”

Lawyers for the student groups, including the ACLU and Palestine Legal, had asked the judge to temporarily block the DeSantis administration’s efforts to deactivate them and protect their continued activities on campuses.

In a statement released after the ruling, the ACLU called on the state to retract the deactivation order because it “violates the free speech rights of university students.”

“Florida officials are now on notice that if they attempt to enforce the deactivation order, we will be back in court to uphold our client’s First Amendment rights,” said Brian Hauss, an attorney for the student chapter at the University of Florida.

During Friday’s nearly four-hour hearing, Walker criticized Florida officials, mostly Gov. Ron DeSantis, for talking about how the student groups were to be shut down. However, Walker also asked lawyers for the student groups if this hearing was just trying to get DeSantis to keep quiet. Lawyers for DeSantis and the State University System asked the judge to throw out the groups’ lawsuits.

Before he abandoned his presidential campaign, DeSantis had boasted during a Republican debate in November that he had already shut down the pro-Palestinian student chapters. In fact, the two universities had quietly consulted outside lawyers over the directives from Tallahassee and were told the moves would be unconstitutional. The schools asked the administration what to do next but otherwise took no action.

“All kinds of people at all levels of government running their mouths,” Walker, appointed in 2012 by President Barack Obama and who has regularly criticized DeSantis and his administration in his rulings on voting and civil rights cases, said during the hearing last week.

Fresh Take Florida


  • Impeach Biden

    January 31, 2024 at 7:48 pm

    Go protest on the West Bank or Gaza. Why are these able bodied men here in the US And not fighting the IDF?

  • Martin

    January 31, 2024 at 8:14 pm

    These “students” can now go pound sand.

  • maritza

    January 31, 2024 at 8:21 pm

    A federal judge also sided with Gov. ron, and tossed disney’s counter suit. Funny how there is no mention of that on this website.

    Gov. Ron is showing Florida how to win. Let the meltdown of the left begin!

  • Dont Say FLA

    January 31, 2024 at 9:35 pm

    Did Rhonda come up with $25 million annually to keep Palestinian kids safe from bullying or just the Jewish kids?

Comments are closed.


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