Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has vowed to use the US Department of Justice to file civil rights cases against reform-minded prosecutors, if he is elected president, escalating his threats against progressive prosecutors as he faces widespread criticism after removing elected officials in his home state from office.
During a debate among seven candidates for the 2024 Republican nomination for president on 28 September, Mr DeSantis invoked philanthropist and right-wing bogeyman George Soros in his pledge to use the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to target “left-wing” prosecutors across the US.
The governor has previously criticised what he called the “weaponisation” of the Justice Department over the prosecution of his rival Donald Trump, but he now appears ready to use the executive office to remove his own political opponents, if elected.
“I will use the Justice Department to bring civil rights cases against all of those left-wing Soros-funded prosecutors,” he said. “We’re not going to let them get away with it anymore. We want to reverse this country’s decline. We need to choose law and order over rioting and disorder.”
Mr DeSantis has suspended two elected state prosecutors in Florida within the last year.
He alleged that Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Monique Worrell, who was elected in 2020 and took office in 2021, was “clearly and fundamentally derelict” in her duties when he suspended her last month.
Ms Worrell – the only Black woman serving as a state prosecutor in Florida – filed a lawsuit to reverse her suspension, arguing that the governor’s executive order “does not allege a single instance in which Ms Worrell’s exercise of prosecutorial discretion violated Florida law.”
“To the extent the governor disagrees with how Ms Worrell is lawfully exercising her prosecutorial discretion, such a disagreement does not constitute a basis for suspension from elected office,” the complaint adds.
Last year, Mr DeSantis suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren after he criticised the governor’s positions on abortion care and gender-affirming care for transgender people.
A federal judge determined his suspension was likely unconstitutional but did not ultimately have authority to reinstate him. The judge admonished the governor for accusing him of relying on a blanket policy to avoid prosecuting certain cases with which he disagreed.
“In short, the controlling motivations for the suspension were the interest in bringing down a reform prosecutor – a prosecutor whose performance did not match the governor’s law-and-order agenda – and the political benefit that would result,” US District Judge Robert Hinkle wrote earlier this year. “The actual facts – whether Mr Warren actually had any blanket nonprosecution policies – did not matter. All that was needed was a pretext to justify the suspension under the Florida Constitution.”
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