Tampa — Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has done the right thing again. No wonder the media and Democrats (pardon the redundancy) are all over him.
On Thursday morning, DeSantis suspended Hillsborough County (Tampa) State Attorney Andrew Warren, who has pledged not to enforce state laws prohibiting abortions after 15 weeks or laws restricting sex changes for minors. DeSantis appointed county Judge Susan Lopez interim state attorney.
After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, handing control over abortion laws back to states, 83 prosecutors across the country signed a letter pledging not to prosecute anyone who performs, abets, or seeks an abortion after 15 weeks. Warren, a Democrat who styles himself a “criminal justice reformer,” was the only Florida prosecutor who joined in this pledge to nullify state law. On Thursday, Warren learned that in red Florida state laws are not a judicial cafeteria from which prosecutors may choose what they like and ignore what they don’t like.
“This 15-week ban is an unconstitutional law,” Warren said in his defense. “The Legislature is hoping courts ignore the Florida Constitution. But I’m upholding the law and protecting the fundamental rights of all Floridians.”
DeSantis is having none of it. “We are not going to allow this pathogen of ignoring the law to get a foothold here in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said in a press conference in Tampa, flanked by several Florida sheriffs and other police officials. “We are going to make sure our laws are enforced and that no individual prosecutor puts himself above the law. To take the position that you have veto power over the laws of this state is untenable.” He added, “’If the law conflicts with your idiosyncratic vision of social justice,’ that doesn’t mean you have veto power over the law.”
In a press release, DeSantis said:
State Attorneys have a duty to prosecute crimes as defined in Florida Law, not pick and choose which laws to enforce based in his personal agenda…. It’s my duty to hold Florida’s elected officials to the highest standards for the people of Florida. I have the utmost trust that Judge Susan Lopez will lead the office through this transition and faithfully uphold the rule of law.
Warren called the governor’s actions “a political stunt” and claimed it was “illegal overreach.” Predictably, other Democrats also blasted DeSantis for his action. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who’s seeking the Democratic nomination to run against DeSantis for governor this year, claims this action shows that DeSantis wants to be a “dictator.”
In a more measured tone but still off the mark, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, a Democrat, tweeted: “Removing a duly elected official should be based on egregious actions—not political statements. In a free state, voters should choose their elected officials.” But she gave us no guidelines on how to determine when a prosecutor is making a political statement, in which apparently he’s free to lie about his intentions, or when he means what he’s saying. Nor did she explain why we should bother electing state legislators to enact our laws if individual prosecutors are free to ignore them at their whim.
Before being elected mayor in 2018, Castor was Tampa’s police chief, and she was quite a good one. She was competent and honest, and she didn’t pursue political agendas while top cop. But she’s certainly lost her way in the more political position of mayor in a city in which almost everyone in public office above the rank of lance corporal is a Democrat. She now finds herself crosswise with those in her previous vocation. Police in Hillsborough County and other, mostly blue, jurisdictions are frustrated with prosecutors who won’t prosecute.
“I continue to work with my law enforcement counterparts who privately are frustrated with the state attorney, who seems intently focused on empathy for criminals and less interested in pursuing justice for crime victims,” Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said at the press conference. Brian Dugan, the former Tampa police chief, was even more blunt, saying: “Andrew Warren is a fraud…. This is a terrible day, that the governor had to come and clean up our mess.”
Those trying to claim that the governor has no right to clean up this mess have a hill to climb. Under Florida’s constitution, a governor can suspend state officials for a number of reasons, including neglect of duty, as in this case. The Florida Senate then decides whether the suspension is justified. In this case, DeSantis should get a good hearing from his majority Republican legislature, many of whose members are as impatient with non-prosecutors as are DeSantis, those trying to enforce the law, and the majority of Floridians. (READ MORE from Larry Thornberry: DeSantis Hits Another Home Run)
As for Warren’s notion that he can choose not to enforce laws that he considers to be unconstitutional, this wouldn’t pass muster with those who’ve gotten no closer to law school than watching a couple of episodes of Perry Mason or The Paper Chase. (Wasn’t John Houseman an imperious old sod in that one?) Even those who flunked the bar exam three times know that courts, not local prosecutors, decide which laws are constitutional and which are not.
Warren was suspended and escorted out of his office on Thursday morning. Considering the case against him, he shouldn’t be expecting to return to it anytime soon, no matter how much Democrats and the Tampa Bay Times hyperventilate.
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