The power of Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, to purge elected officials who disagree with him will be challenged in a federal lawsuit filed by a state attorney suspended for “wokeness”.
Andrew Warren was removed as Hillsborough county state attorney on 4 August after saying he would not enforce a new 15-week abortion ban or prosecute providers of gender transition treatment for young people.
In a press conference announcing the suspension, DeSantis, seen as a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, attacked Warren’s “woke agenda” and “flagrant violation of his oath of office” for refusing to enforce the law.
Warren, a twice-elected Democrat, hit back on Wednesday with a lawsuit filed in federal court in Tallahassee. In a Twitter post announcing the move, he said he was taking action “against Ron DeSantis’ abuse of power and unlawful suspension”.
In a video message, he added: “The governor has broken two laws. He’s violated my first amendment rights by retaliating against me for speaking out on abortion and transgender rights, and he’s violated the Florida constitution by removing me from office without any legal justification.”
He told reporters: “If the governor’s allowed to do this, what’s left of democracy? If the governor’s allowed to retaliate against me for speaking out, what’s left of the first amendment?”
DeSantis responded in a statement, saying Warren’s action was without merit.
“It’s not surprising Warren, who was suspended for refusing to follow the law, would file a legally baseless lawsuit challenging his suspension. We look forward to responding in court,” the statement said.
Some analysts have questioned the legality of DeSantis’s move, pointing out it was based on an action that had not taken place.
Additionally, the Orlando Sentinel noted that the governor has taken no action against so-called “constitutional” sheriffs who say they won’t enforce certain gun laws.
He did act in 2019, suspending the Broward county sheriff, Scott Israel, a Democrat, for “neglect of duty”.
Like Warren, Israel – who was criticized for his department’s response to the February 2018 high school shooting in Parkland in which 17 people were killed – argued that DeSantis acted unlawfully by overriding the will of voters. He did not succeed in winning his job back.
DeSantis has made “culture war” issues a central plank of his strategy to win reelection in November and, according to many observers, a probable White House run in two years’ time.
Warren has the backing of Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried, two Democrats running head to head in next Tuesday’s Florida primary to challenge DeSantis in the fall.
Crist, a former governor and congressman who represents Hillsborough county, called DeSantis “an autocrat that would love to be the dictator of Florida, and then America”.
Fried, Florida’s agriculture commissioner and the only statewide elected Democrat, was equally scathing.
“It is not up to the governor to remove elected officials because he does not agree with their philosophies,” she told Warren supporters in Tampa. “This is a local issue that needed to have stayed local.”