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Florida Federal Judge Affirms DeSantis’ Decision to Prohibit College Funding for DEI Initiatives

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker has denied a request to temporarily block Florida’s latest funding ban on state college and university diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. In a Friday opinion, Walker acknowledged that the consequence of this case might frustrate the common person. He noted that the law may very well be used to punish professors who teach real subjects at real schools where lawmakers and decision-makers have shown hostility towards certain ideas and viewpoints. Nonetheless, without delving into the case’s constitutional questions, Walker stated that the plaintiffs must establish standing to sue, which they didn’t do.

This law, also often known as Senate Bill 266, not only prohibits funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Florida colleges and universities but in addition affects classroom instruction. The law directs the Board of Governors to review academic programs periodically and issue directives to make sure they align with a university’s mission, particularly concerning course materials that debate systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege. Moreover, the law prohibits general education core courses from teaching such theories and from distorting significant historical events or incorporating a curriculum that teaches identity politics. It also prohibits university spending on programs that engage in political or social activism.

The plaintiffs on this case are professors Sarah Hernandez, Maribeth Clark, and Kim Anderson, together with students Sara Engels, Carlton Leffler, and Shelby Nagle. They’re joined by NCF Freedom Inc., a bunch formed to oppose Governor Ron DeSantis’s conservative changes to Recent College. The plaintiffs argue that the law violates their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights in various ways, claiming it’s vague, overbroad, and censors speech based on content and viewpoint. They state that the law infringes upon their academic freedom and their right to freely engage in speech and debate on any topic of interest and concern.

The defendants named within the lawsuit include Recent College President Richard Corcoran, the Board of Trustees, the Florida Board of Governors, and Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz. In the course of the hearing, the defendants’ attorneys argued that they lacked standing to sue, because the Board of Governors had not yet created any regulations for the law.

Judge Walker was convinced by the defendants’ argument and ruled that the plaintiffs had not established standing. He stated that the record lacked the essential connective tissue to prove that the law targeted and disciplined the plaintiffs’ speech. Moreover, there was no evidence to suggest that the defendants intended to implement the statute against their speech in the style they feared. In response to the ruling, a spokesperson for Recent College called it a victory for Florida students and taxpayers, emphasizing the importance of accountability in public higher education.

First Amendment lawyer Gary Edinger, representing the plaintiffs, stated that while there have been some weak spots in Judge Walker’s reasoning, it was clear that the judge would have struck down the law if he had found a technique to justify standing. Edinger expressed hope that the judge’s decision would discourage the Board of Governors from creating rules that will invite constitutional challenges to the statute.

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