Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida scored a significant victory on Wednesday as a federal judge threw out a lawsuit filed by the Walt Disney Company. The lawsuit claimed that DeSantis and his allies violated the First Amendment by taking over a special tax district that encompasses Walt Disney World. Disney has been at odds with DeSantis for nearly two years over the control of Disney World, with the governor taking over the tax district and appointing a new board, ending the company’s long-held ability to self-govern the theme park and resort complex. The lawsuit accused DeSantis of a “relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint,” but the judge found that the law giving DeSantis control of the tax district was written in a way that did not allow Disney to claim retaliation, as it affected multiple landowners, not just Disney.
While the ruling is a significant setback for Disney, the lawsuit between the company and the tax district remains active at the state level. Disney has accused the tax district of failing to comply with public records requests, adding to the ongoing legal battle. The growth plan that Disney locked into place before DeSantis and his allies took over the district involves the possible construction of 14,000 additional hotel rooms, a fifth major theme park, and three small parks, representing a significant investment of over $17 billion and the creation of an estimated 13,000 jobs.
Opinions on the matter are divided, with Governor DeSantis and his allies celebrating the ruling as a victory against corporate control, while Disney vows to appeal the decision, claiming that it sets a dangerous precedent if left unchallenged. The case has serious implications for the rule of law, and the ongoing legal battle reflects the high stakes involved in the power struggle between the state of Florida and one of the world’s largest entertainment corporations. The outcome could potentially shape the future of Disney’s operations in the region and have lasting implications for the relationship between government authorities and major corporate entities.