A federal judge known for ruling against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recused himself Thursday from Disney’s lawsuit against the governor, according to a court filing.
Chief U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Florida Mark Walker, an Obama appointee, recused himself after discovering “a relative within the third degree of relationship” owns 30 shares in The Walt Disney Company, per the a court filing. Walker blocked DeSantis’ “Stop W.O.K.E. Act” in November, calling it “positively dystopian,” and struck down parts of his election law as unconstitutional in March 2022, citing the state’s “horrendous history of racial discrimination in voting,” according to Politico.
Disney sued DeSantis in April, alleging that the governor’s decision to remove the company’s self-governing status was a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” sparked by the company’s criticism of the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, which banned teachers from instructing students in grades K-3 on gender identity and sexual orientation.
“Even though I believe it is highly unlikely that these proceedings will have a substantial effect on The Walt Disney Company, I choose to err on the side of caution—which, here, is also the side of judicial integrity—and disqualify myself,” Walker wrote. “Maintaining public trust in the judiciary is paramount, perhaps now more than ever in the history of our Republic.”
Lawyers representing DeSantis previously requested that Walker recuse himself from the case based on statements he made in two unrelated cases, according to the May 19 filing. Walker cited Disney “as an example of state retaliation,” which could show he is already “prejudiced” towards Disney’s argument.
“Because that question is now before this Court, and because that question involves highly publicized matters of great interest to Florida’s citizens, the Court should disqualify itself to prevent even the appearance of impropriety,” the filing read.
DeSantis and Walker did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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