Florida newspaper slams 'dictatorial' Ron DeSantis over 'legally suspect' state attorney suspension
On August 4th, 2022, Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren – a twice-elected Democrat from Tampa's Hillsborough County – after Warren announced that he would not enforce the Sunshine State's unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive freedom, which include a 15-week abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest as well as the criminalization of gender-affirming care.
DeSantis accused Warren of "neglect of duty" and "incompetence" and stated for him "to take a position that you have veto powers over the laws of the state is untenable."
Warren responded that DeSantis is "trying to overthrow democracy here in Hillsborough County."
Yet the fight is just beginning. On Wednesday morning, Warren filed a lawsuit in the District Court for the Northern District of Florida challenging his dismissal. It alleges that DeSantis overstepped his executive authority.
"The Florida Constitution sets very limited parameters under which a governor can suspend an elected official and what's happening here is, he's trying to overturn a free and fair election," Warren told CNN of DeSantis. "He's trying to throw out the votes of hundreds of thousands of Floridians. And he's trying to substitute his judgment for that of the voters who elected me."
CNN pointed out that "under Florida law, a governor can remove 'any county officer' for malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony." But Warren's lawyers argued in their complaint that "the First Amendment still applies even though DeSantis is the Governor of Florida and that the Constitution of the State of Florida means what the courts say it means, not whatever DeSantis needs it to mean to silence his critics, promote his loyalists, and subvert the will of the voters."
A few hours after Warren's appearance on CNN, the South Florida Sun Sentinel Editorial Board blasted DeSantis for his "legally suspect" decision.
"DeSantis is driven by partisanship and a zeal to use the powers of his office to silence critics — and wants voters to give him four more years in November so he can continue to run roughshod over his critics. Who’s next?" the editors wrote.
"What’s important to know about the suspension of Warren is that the prosecutor is a Democrat who has been vocal in his opposition to Florida’s 15-week abortion ban, with no exception for rape or incest, passed earlier this year by the Legislature and signed into law by DeSantis. A circuit judge struck down the Florida law as unconstitutional and the state is appealing," they explained. "With the abortion law in legal limbo, Warren said in June that he would not prosecute people for providing or seeking abortions, and cited 'well-settled discretion' of prosecutors. He did that in a signed pledge through a national group, Just and Fair Prosecution, along with nearly 100 other prosecutors across the country. The only other Florida prosecutor who signed was State Attorney Monique Worrell of the Orange and Osceola County circuit."
The Board noted that "the fatal legal flaw in the suspension order is that Warren was punished not for any action taken or not taken, but because of public statements he has made. DeSantis is governor, not the thought police. 'At no time while in office,' Warren’s lawsuit states, 'has Warren ever been referred a case involving a request to prosecute abortion-related crimes,'" adding that policy disagreement "is not sufficient cause to suspend Warren from office and invalidate the results of two countywide elections in Florida’s fourth-largest county."
DeSantis, the paper continued, "overreached. He should have waited at least until Warren decided an abortion case, though the law is clear that he has prosecutorial discretion. DeSantis could have issued an order, transferring all abortion cases to another state attorney as former Gov. Rick Scott did when former Orlando prosecutor Aramis Ayala declared her opposition to seeking the death penalty. Suspension, and sending an armed deputy to escort Warren from his office, is an extreme act that reeks of vengeance and partisanship."
The battle between Warren and DeSantis will be formidable, as both men are skilled in making their case. Warren, however, holds one key advantage.
The Sun Sentinel recalled that "as a candidate for governor four years ago, DeSantis got 234,835 votes in Democrat-leaning Hillsborough County, losing the county to rival Andrew Gillum. Two years ago, Warren proved much more popular with county voters, getting 369,129 votes despite being farther down the ballot. The 2020 election was a much higher-turnout presidential race, but the numbers speak for themselves."
Therefore, the Editorial Board posited in its conclusion, "who speaks more clearly for most of Greater Tampa — DeSantis or Warren?"
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