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Court Sends Andrew Warren’s Case Back to Trial Judge Over First Amendment Concerns

A federal appeals court has ruled that Andrew Warren, a Democratic prosecutor suspended by Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, should be given another opportunity to demonstrate that his political advocacy, protected by the First Amendment, should not be the basis for his removal. The ruling sends the case back to a trial judge in Tallahassee.

Case Returns to Trial Judge

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A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided to return the case involving ex-prosecutor Andrew Warren to the trial judge.

The goal is to determine whether Governor DeSantis’ suspension was focused on statements made by Warren and other prosecutors opposing certain legislation related to abortion and gender care.

Basis of Suspension

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In August 2022, Governor DeSantis suspended Warren, citing the advocacy statements as the basis for his removal. Warren was subsequently replaced by Republican Suzy Lopez as the state attorney in Tampa, despite having been elected twice. Warren recently announced he would not seek reelection this year.

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Previous Ruling by U.S. District Judge

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U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle had previously ruled in January that the advocacy statements were protected by the First Amendment. However, he also indicated that DeSantis might have suspended Warren for other reasons unrelated to political advocacy.

11th Circuit’s Decision

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The 11th Circuit vacated the previous decision and instructed Judge Hinkle to conduct further proceedings. These proceedings will require DeSantis to demonstrate that Warren’s suspension was based on issues related to his actual performance and policies as a prosecutor, rather than solely on his political advocacy.

First Amendment Protection

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Circuit Judge Jill Pryor, in a 59-page ruling, emphasized that the First Amendment safeguards Warren’s right to sign the transgender care and abortion statements. The ruling noted that neither statement referred to a specific Florida law and were intended for national audiences.

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Warren’s Response

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Andrew Warren expressed his hope that the ruling would lead to his reinstatement as state attorney. He emphasized the importance of protecting democracy and reinstating the duly elected official.

Governor DeSantis’ Disagreement

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Jeremy Redfern, the Press Secretary for Governor DeSantis, disagreed with the appeals court’s decision, arguing that it sets a dangerous precedent. Redfern contended that a state prosecutor’s refusal to enforce state laws, as declared by Warren, is not protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Florida Supreme Court’s Previous Decision

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In the past, the Florida Supreme Court had declined to reinstate Andrew Warren, stating that he had waited too long to file a petition.

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First Suspension of Democratic State Attorneys

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Warren’s suspension marked the first instance of a Republican governor suspending a Democratic elected state attorney. Another Democratic state attorney, Monique Worrell, was also suspended by DeSantis last year, and her challenge to the decision is pending before the Florida Supreme Court.

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