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Judge Refuses to Reinstate State Attorney Whom Gov. Ron DeSantis Removed

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Earlier on Friday, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle refused to reinstate Andrew Warren, a George Soros-backed state attorney who had been removed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) last August for refusing to enforce state law on abortion and transgender procedures on children who may be experiencing gender dysphoria. Weeks later, Warren sued. Although Hinkle ruled that DeSantis violated Warren's First Amendment rights and the Florida constitution, he also pointed out that he does not have the authority as a federal judge. 

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According to a report from FOX 13 News in Tampa, which includes the ruling, Judge Hinke believes this is a state matter, citing the 11th Amendment. 

Judge Hinkle claimed DeSantis violated Warren's First Amendment rights by "considering Mr. Warren's speech on matters of public opinion." 

CNN's report has more. While they couldn't help taking a dig at DeSantis, they also highlighted how the First Amendment violations that Judge Hinkle found were still not enough to entitle Warren to relief:

The suspension of Warren was a particularly prominent example of DeSantis making aggressive use of his gubernatorial powers to escalate cultural battles and elevate his profile on the national stage. A state attorney is a democratically elected position, and the governor’s critics say his move to suspend Warren undermined the will of the Tampa-area voters who elected him as their top local prosecutor.

Warren, in his lawsuit, was asking the judge to reinstate him to the role.

But Hinkle rejected Warren’s arguments that DeSantis’ actions violated the US Constitution’s free speech protections in a way that warranted a federal court’s intervention. Warren had argued that he had been suspended for protected speech – and specifically, public statements he made supporting abortion and LGBTQ rights. While those statements, and other factors that led to Warren’s suspension, were protected speech, DeSantis “would have made the same decision anyway, even without considering these things,” Hinkle concluded, pointing to Warren’s approach as a “reform prosecutor.”

“The First Amendment violations were not essential to the outcome and so do not entitle Mr. Warren to relief in this action,” Hinkle said. “The suspension also violated the Florida Constitution, and that violation did affect the outcome. But the 11th Amendment prohibits a federal court from awarding declaratory or injunctive relief of the kind at issue against a state official based only on a violation of state law.”

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Warren, a Democrat, had signed a letter stating he would not enforce Florida's pro-life laws once the Dobbs v. Jackson decision had been overturned. A 15-week ban on abortions in the state was signed into law last April and has been going through court battles. 

"The Governor has the authority to suspend a state officer under Article IV, Section 7 of the Constitution of the State of Florida," DeSantis' office had said in a statement at the time that Warren was removed. 

At the time of Warren's immediate removal last August, Florida's Attorney General Ashley Moody spoke to Fox & Friends to reiterate DeSantis' authority. "Gov. Ron DeSantis is the chief executive of Florida. He has a duty to make sure the laws are faithfully enforced throughout the state. And he felt, based on prior statements, that he [Warren] wouldn't enforce the law, prior actions that law enforcement said they couldn't get their cases resolved effectively for the safety of the community." She also explained, "Ron DeSantis, as the chief executive, had no choice."

When it comes to what's next for Warren, the local news report mentions he can file a lawsuit in state court, go to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, or run for reelection.

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In covering the ruling, some outlets focused on how Judge Hinkle criticized DeSantis' move to fire Warren. 

"Judge criticizes DeSantis firing of Democratic prosecutor but declines to reinstate Andrew Warren," read CNN's headline regarding the piece mentioned above, for instance. The headline for the Orlando Sentinel read, "Judge raps DeSantis for suspending Tampa prosecutor but won't reinstate Warren."

The Tampa Bay Times had at least two articles, including "Judge says DeSantis was wrong, but declines to restore Andrew Warren to office" and "DeSantis prevailed over Andrew Warren. Other lawsuits show what might come next."

The governor's office is still considering the decision a win. "Today, Judge Hinkle upheld the governor's decision to suspend Andrew Warren from office for neglect of duty and incompetence. This is a win for the governor and a win for the people of Florida," Communications Director Taryn Fenske said in a statement. 

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