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Florida files an appeal over parts of anti-riot law that were blocked

A large crowd of protestors peacefully protested George Floyd's death in downtown Tampa in June 2020.
Daylina Miller
WUSF Public Media
A large crowd of protestors peacefully protested George Floyd's death in downtown Tampa in June 2020.

Attorneys for Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday notified a federal judge that the state will appeal a decision blocking parts of a controversial law aimed at cracking down on protests.

DeSantis championed the law after nationwide protests focused on racial justice last year following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.

The law, passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by DeSantis this spring, enhances penalties and creates new crimes in protests that turn violent.

The Dream Defenders, the Florida State Conference of the NAACP and other organizations alleged in a lawsuit that the measure is unconstitutionally vague, has a “chilling” effect on First Amendment rights and gives police too much power.

Calling it “vague and overbroad,” Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker on Sept. 9 granted the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction blocking DeSantis and three sheriffs from enforcing the law.

“Though plaintiffs claim that they and their members fear that it (the law) will be used against them based on the color of their skin or the messages that they express, its vagueness permits those in power to weaponize its enforcement against any group who wishes to express any message that the government disapproves of,” Walker wrote in a 90-page order. “Thus, while there may be some Floridians who welcome the chilling effect that this law has on the plaintiffs in this case, depending on who is in power, next time it could be their ox being gored.”

On Friday, lawyers for DeSantis filed a notice saying the state will appeal the preliminary injunction at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. As is common, Friday’s notice did not include details about the state’s appeal.

The case focuses in large part on a section of the law that creates a new definition of “riot.”

Walker found that the definition “both fails to put Floridians of ordinary intelligence on notice of what acts it criminalizes and encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement, making this provision vague to the point of unconstitutionality.”

DeSantis made the “Combating Public Disorder” law one of his chief priorities of the legislative session that ended in April.

Following Walker’s ruling, DeSantis, a Harvard Law School graduate, told reporters he was confident the Atlanta-based appeals court will overturn the decision.

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