Opinion: DeSantis’ actions should raise alarm bells

Editor’s note: Norman Eisen served as counsel to House Democrats during Trump’s first impeachment and served as White House ethics czar and ambassador to the Czech Republic during the Obama administration. Christine Todd Whitman was the governor of New Jersey and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the George W. Bush administration. Eisen was counsel and Todd Whitman was amicus for a brief in which the Department of Justice granted a stay motion in the 11th Circuit. The opinions expressed in this comment are his own. See more reviews on CNN.


This week he delivered some devastating blows to former President Donald Trump.

Christine Todd Whitman

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals partially suspended a lower court on Wednesday, allowing the Justice Department to begin reviewing classified documents seized from Mar. lake

On the same day, the New York Attorney General charged Trump, his three children and the Trump Organization with fraud in a civil suit that could destroy his financial base and cost his company. Trump, of course, continues to deny any wrongdoing in any case.

But these developments create a new risk; The more Trump falters, the more likely Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the main opponent of the leader of American illiberalism, to gain ground.

The governor, a skilled player in the culture wars, has shown how adept he is at promoting cruel and extreme policies, with the added benefit of boosting his national profile and rousing support among conservatives. This makes him one of the most dangerous men in America, and it’s time to face that danger.

DeSantis’ latest ploy to use migrants as political pawns is just the latest example in a long line of attacks on the rule of law and related norms. Last week, he agreed to send about 50 migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, following in the footsteps of another Republican governor who has transported migrants to liberal cities along the US southern border.

While Trump also exploited the immigration issue, DeSantis is a lawyer who should have a better understanding of the complex legalities.

The migrants say they were misled about where they were going, and a nonprofit immigrant advocacy group filed a complaint against DeSantis on their behalf. They allege denial of constitutional due process and equal protection rights, conspiracy, fraud, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and more. These are serious claims, and could cause great harm and embarrassment to DeSantis if the migrants succeed in court.

Law enforcement in Bexar County, Texas, where the migrants were removed, has opened a criminal investigation, although DeSantis has not been personally named as a target. The sheriff said, “I believe there is some criminal activity involved here, but at this point, we’re trying to keep an open mind and we’re going to investigate to find out and determine what laws were broken. So be it.”

Texas also has several statutes that merit close examination, including unlawful restraint, which “involves acts of substantial obstruction.” [a] the freedom of the person, moving [a] from one person to another or confining [a] person.” The statute does not exclude migrants from the definition of “person,” which includes any living human being.

Here, transporting migrants might (or might not) be such a restriction on movement, and alleged fraud could undermine the permit. Although we must bear in mind that we are at the beginning of the investigation, and the authorities have not yet made a decision one way or the other. Federal law also contains similar and other prohibitions that deserve review, and indeed federal authorities are reportedly looking into the case.

DeSantis’ alleged wrongdoing and related legal challenges don’t stop there, either. A federal judge in Florida recently ordered a speedy trial after DeSantis suspended Tampa state attorney Andrew Warren for “neglect of duty.” Warren joined dozens of other elected prosecutors in speaking out against criminalizing abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision. Warren sued DeSantis in response, saying the governor violated her freedom of speech.

DeSantis’ conduct appears to raise serious problems for punishing Warren’s speech under the First Amendment. At least that’s what it seems to us, as a former Republican governor and constitutional court judge who tackled free speech issues. We were not surprised that the federal judge in Florida denied DeSantis’ motion to dismiss the First Amendment claim and set a trial to settle the case “once and for all.”

That’s partly because the DeSantis courts have repeatedly upheld laws they found to violate the First Amendment. Among them was the “anti-sedition” bill, which was found to violate freedom of expression and assembly; a law limiting race-based conversation and analysis in businesses and schools, which a federal judge said turned free speech “upside down”; and a law intended to punish social media companies was unconstitutional, as a judge wrote that “the government cannot tell a private person or entity what to say or how to say it.” It’s a statement that’s blatantly obvious to any high school student, but apparently irrelevant to DeSantis as he defended the creation of the law.

DeSantis has also passed homophobic legislation, dubbed by critics the “Don’t Say Gay” law, to curtail discussions of sexual orientation in public schools from kindergarten through third grade. This is also contested today because it is so broad that it can prohibit a teacher from disclosing a same-sex spouse or explaining why a student might have “two mothers.”

It is also worth noting that DeSantis has not only attacked the rule of law but also its rules. Following Trump’s book on targeting the businesses of his alleged opponents, DeSantis attacked Disney for opposing the “Don’t Say Gay” law. They have moved to dissolve their special taxing district, even though the district would not have to shoulder the high costs of Disney World’s infrastructure to neighboring county taxpayers.

DeSantis hounded the Special Olympics to drop the vaccination requirement for its Orlando games, threatening a $27.5 million fine, even though people with intellectual disabilities, such as Down syndrome, who are part of the core Special Olympics, have higher hospitalization and death rates. from covid-19

DeSantis is now taking his show on the road to brag about what he’s done around the country (in fact, he ignores the fact that courts have struck down some of his biggest hits for violating people’s constitutional liberties). Despite the inconvenient truth, these policies benefit DeSantis politically, garnering media attention and conservative endorsements as he looks toward a 2024 White House bid.

Then he shows his contempt for the rules at the foundation of our democracy: the vote. DeSantis has faced election denials from Arizona to Pennsylvania. While DeSantis himself has avoided answering whether he believes the 2020 election was stolen from him, he proposed and sponsored an election crimes office in Florida. He then held a campaign-style press conference to announce their first job: 20 ex-felons were arrested for voting illegally, although some of those people were sent voter registration materials, making it difficult to prove intent, according to NBC News.

For many Americans, Trump’s lack of a legal and regulatory compass was too much to bear. The events of the past week only underscore this. But DeSantis is more cautious than Trump, and has shown the same willingness to push the limits of our laws and regulations.

This pattern of behavior by the governor of America’s third most populous state – who clearly aspires to high office – is of great concern and requires a strong response. We should now turn our attention to the legal system’s efforts to provide one.