Florida Governor Ron DeSantis believes he was within his rights when he removed Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren from office. Warren thinks differently.
Warren believes the move was a violation of his First Amendment rights. What are their arguments, and where does the cases go from here?
Why Did DeSantis Remove Warren From Office?
On August 4, 2022, Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis held a press conference and announced that he was removing Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren from his position.
Warren, a Democrat, had been elected twice to his position in the 13th Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County, Tampa, Florida.
DeSantis said he was removing Warren due to Warren’s disregard for his duty to enforce state laws.
After Roe v. Wade was overturned, Warren joined dozens of prosecutors around the country in signing a pledge stating they would “refrain from using limited criminal legal system resources to criminalize personal medical decisions.” Warren also signed a similar document with a group of prosecutors who said they would not use their office to “promote the criminalization of gender-affirming health care or transgender people,” as reported by The Washington Post.
DeSantis says Warren, “put himself publicly above the law,” as reported by the Tampa Bay Times. DeSantis claimed he visited the 13th Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County and the response he got, “was a lot of frustration on the part of law enforcement for criminals being let go and crimes not being prosecuted.”
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.
An armed sheriff’s deputy escorted Warren from the building after DeSantis signed the order. DeSantis appointed a county judge to temporarily replace Warren. Susan Lopez, a Republican judge who backed Warren’s opponent in 2016, is now acting in his place.
DeSantis believes he is justified in the removal, but Warren thinks differently.
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Why Did Warren File a Federal Lawsuit Against DeSantis?
On August 17, 2022, Warren filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court. The lawsuit argues that the Governor violated Warren’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech. It asks the court to rescind DeSantis’ order and reinstate Warren as the State Attorney.
While Warren pledged that he would not to prosecute people for violating abortion or gender-affirming restrictions, he had no pending cases related to either matter.
DeSantis’ order does not cite any examples of Warren failing to prosecute individual cases. The state currently doesn’t have any laws on gender-affirming care, and the 15-week abortion ban signed by DeSantis is currently facing lawsuits and will be heard in front of the State Supreme Court.
Warren argues that his removal isn’t a punishment for lack of prosecution — but is instead a punishment for his use of free speech.
“And let’s be clear — the Governor had absolutely no examples of specific actions taken by me or my office where I had ignored or declined to follow the law. This really is about my opposing two of his pet culture war issues — abortion and transgender health care,” Warren said, as reported by NPR.
This isn’t the first time public officials have been removed by DeSantis or his Republican predecessor. DeSantis performed the same action four years ago when he dismissed the Sheriff of Broward County, Scott Israel, for his actions surrounding the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
While he was Governor, Republican Rick Scott took a few dozen cases from the State Attorney in Orlando when she said she wouldn’t pursue the death penalty in the cases. But, Scott did not remove her from office.
Past removals differ in that there were ongoing cases that led to the decision, and in the case of the State Attorney in Orlando, she was not removed from her position. She was only removed from the cases.
So, what will happen next?
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Where Does the Case Go From Here?
Before Warren’s lawsuit, it was up to the Florida Senate whether or not Warren’s dismissal would become permanent. The Florida Senate has the final say on a public official’s removal or reinstatement.
It is likely that the Republican-controlled Florida Senate would vote to agree with DeSantis’ removal of Warren. But, the lawsuit puts the process on pause.
A judge will now decide if Warren’s dismissal was unlawful. If the judge sides with Warren, he should be able to go back to work. If the judge sides with DeSantis, the final decision will go back to the Florida Senate.
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