Friday, April 28, 2023

Disney Skewers DeSantis With His Own Words

I've read the entire suit Disney filed against DeSantis - which you can find here. One of the most notable things is that it is written in plain English, avoiding the kind of legaleze that you usually find in such documents. The only drawback is that it's 77 pages long.

Before getting into the weeds about Disney's claims, here's a quick timeline of the major events in question:

  • March 28, 2022 - DeSantis signs "don't say gay bill." On the same day, Disney released a statement saying the bill should never have been passed and committed to working towards its repeal.
  • April 22, 2022 - DeSantis signs SB 4C, which dissolves the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) as of July 2023.
  • Feb. 8, 2023 - RCID approves a declaration of restrictive covenants and a development agreement with Disney.
  • February 27, 2023 - DeSantis signs HB 9B, which maintains the district under a different name and allows the governor to appoint members to the governing board.
  • April 17, 2023 - DeSantis holds a press conference to announce plans to nullify the development agreement and suggests further steps he might take to punish Disney.

The case Disney is making is summarized with this (emphasis mine):

A targeted campaign of government retaliation—orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech—now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights...

Disney regrets that it has come to this. But having exhausted efforts to seek a resolution, the Company is left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members, guests, and local development partners from a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain State officials... 
Governor DeSantis and his allies paid no mind to the governing structure that facilitated Reedy Creek’s successful development until one year ago, when the Governor decided to target Disney. There is no room for disagreement about what happened here: Disney expressed its opinion on state legislation and was then punished by the State for doing so.

Throughout the document, they refer to the way DeSantis has "weaponized government," which is interesting given the way people like Rep. Jim Jordan are using the term to go after Democrats.

You may have heard that the agreements between RCID and Disney approved on Feb. 8th stripped DeSantis's new governing board of all of its power. That is not true.

[T]hese contracts are land use agreements between a developer and its local regulator. They are similar in character to contracts between other developers and special districts to fix long-term development rights and obligations, thereby facilitating the certainty needed to ensure investment and effective commercial progress. Contrary to misunderstandings and mischaracterizations by some government leaders, they do not undermine the newly constituted Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (“CFTOD” or the “District”) board’s ability to govern and exercise authority, including by imposing taxes, exercising the power of eminent domain, approving or disapproving building permit applications (including for the projects carried out pursuant to the development agreement), building roads, providing emergency services, or issuing bonds.

Here's part of the kicker paragraph that comes at the end of their initial summary:

But Disney also knows that it is fortunate to have the resources to take a stand against the State’s retaliation—a stand smaller businesses and individuals might not be able to take when the State comes after them for expressing their own views. In America, the government cannot punish you for speaking your mind. 

Most of the document is a timeline of the major events noted above. At every turn, they document that, in his own words, DeSantis made it clear that he was taking action in retaliation for Disney's public stand against the "don't say gay bill."

Perhaps the most potent example is that, on the day after DeSantis signed the bill that allowed him to appoint members of the district's governing board, he actually put his intentions in writing for an opinion piece at the Wall Street Journal. These are the governor's own words captured for posterity:

For more than 50 years, the state of Florida put Disney on a pedestal. That all changed last year, when left-wing activists working at the company’s headquarters in Burbank, Calif., pressured Disney to oppose Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act...

The regrettable upshot of the woke ascendancy is that publicly traded corporations have become combatants in battles over American politics and culture, almost invariably siding with leftist causes...

When corporations try to use their economic power to advance a woke agenda, they become political, and not merely economic, actors. In such an environment, reflexively deferring to big business effectively surrenders the political battlefield to the militant left...

Woke ideology is a form of cultural Marxism. Leaders must stand up and fight back when big corporations make the mistake, as Disney did, of using their economic might to advance a political agenda.

Nothing makes Disney's case better than the governor's own words. 

But the real whopper in this lawsuit comes at the end when Disney lays out the particulars of what they want the courts to do. Here's the biggy:

Declare that Senate Bill 4C and House Bill 9B are unlawful and unenforceable because they were enacted in retaliation for Disney’s political speech in violation of the First Amendment.

In other words, they want both (1) the bill that originally dissolved RCID, and (2) the one that gave the governor the power to appoint members of the governing board, to be declared unconstitutional. 

I suspect that if DeSantis had been willing to sit down with Bob Iger and talk this through, they could have come up with a compromise that allowed the governor to save face. But that's not what MAGA folks do. So Disney was left with no choice but to sue for the whole enchilada. Their lawyers laid out an excellent case using DeSantis's own words - proving once again that the governor isn't the brightest bulb.


  1. On a side note - DeSantis held a pre-announcement gathering in SC a few days ago and the items they were passing out had 'DeSantis' on them in the Disney script that is used by Disney corporation, with the same swoop at the top of the D, the circular dot above the i and the slight curve to the t near the end of DeSantis, so it looked like something that could be on the shelves of merchandise at Disneyworld.

    I'm looking forward to Disney going after the campaign for this.

  2. Of course, Disney is pleading first-amendment rights (much as I might wish they'd rest their case on their contract and existing law with Florida). So, ironically, hateful as they is, the right's court rulings in favor of corporate personhood has come back to haunt them.

    1. Disney is also pleading its case on contract and existing Florida Law, not just on its Frist Amendment rights. From Disney's legal filing:

      "17. It is a clear violation of Disney’s federal constitutional rights—under
      the Contracts Clause, the Takings Clause, the Due Process Clause, and the First
      Amendment—for the State to inflict a concerted campaign of retaliation because
      the Company expressed an opinion with which the government disagreed. And it
      is a clear violation of these rights for the CFTOD board to declare its own legally
      binding contracts void and unenforceable. Disney thus seeks relief from this Court
      in order to carry out its long-held business plans."


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