The battle between Disney and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is now heading to federal court.
On Wednesday, the DeSantis-picked board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District — which covers Walt Disney World property — voted to void a 30-year developer contract enacted by the district’s Disney-controlled predecessor. Board members had previously stated that the agreement undermined their authority.
Disney responded by filing a suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida against DeSantis and the board, calling the decision to void the contract as “patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional.”
The suit alleges that DeSantis and the new board have engaged in a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” to deprive Disney of its rights under the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment. The latter claim stems from DeSantis’ push to take over the Disney-controlled district after the company publicly opposed the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which forbids discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in public school classrooms.
DeSantis has made no secret that retaliation was his motivation for eliminating the Disney-controlled Reedy Creek Improvement District. In April 2022, he said he viewed Disney’s opposition to the education law “as a provocation and we’re going to fight back against that.”
The suit states, “Disney has never wanted a fight with the Florida government. The Company sought to de-escalate the matter for nearly a year, trying several times to spark a productive dialogue with the DeSantis Administration. To no avail.” Besides seeking to block the new DeSantis board’s nullification of the Disney contract, the Disney suit argues that the entire takeover of the Reedy Creek Improvement District was “unlawful and unenforceable.”
DeSantis’ battle with Disney has now become political fodder for his rival ahead of his expected bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination Former President Donald Trump chastised DeSantis for being “outplayed, outsmarted, and embarrassed by Mickey Mouse.” Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said in a Fox News appearance, “If Disney would like to move their hundreds of thousands of jobs to South Carolina and bring their billions of dollars with them, I’ll let them know. I’ll be happy to meet them in South Carolina and introduce them to the Governor and the Legislature.”
DeSantis spokesperson Taryn Fenske said in a statement responding to the Disney lawsuit, “We are unaware of any legal right that a company has to operate its own government or maintain special privileges not held by other businesses in the state. The lawsuit is yet another unfortunate example of their hope to undermine the will of the Florida voters and operate outside the bounds of the law.”
You can read the full suit filed by Disney here.