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Former Trump Lawyer Breaks With DeSantis Over Disney: He's 'Over the Line'

Newsweek 4/21/2022 Adam Staten
Photo of Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis at press conference in Washington, D.C. on November, 19, 2020. Ellis has spoken out against Florida's move to remove the Reedy Creek district. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images) © MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images Photo of Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis at press conference in Washington, D.C. on November, 19, 2020. Ellis has spoken out against Florida's move to remove the Reedy Creek district. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Jenna Ellis, a former Trump campaign attorney, has spoken out against Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and lawmakers in the state for their recent action toward the Walt Disney World Company.

On Wednesday, legislators in Florida's Republican-controlled state Senate voted 23-16 to remove Disney from its self-governing status. This vote comes amid the continuing fight between DeSantis and Disney after the company issued a statement vowing to fight against the Parental Rights in Education law, which its opponents have named the 'Don't Say Gay' law.


Ellis, a Newsmax contributor, said in a social media post that "DeSantis is over the line here" in regards to Disney.

In retweeting an article that called the Florida GOP governor's move against Disney a "misguided attack," Ellis also asked what would occur if Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsom took similar action against the popular fast-food chain Chick-fil-A. She proceeded to say that "policy and law must be fair and reasonable" and "not vengeful."

Ellis stated that while she personally may not agree with Disney's corporate position on the 'Don't Say Gay' law, she argued that the company still has a "right to speak and support or not support legislation without government consequences."

She also pointed to the Constitution in staking out her position, saying that our nation's document is "NOT partisan, guys"—and that given the amount of anger she was receiving from the right and how those on the left seemed to be in agreement with her meant that she is "right on target in defending the legal principle."

In response to a Twitter user who indicated that conservatives cannot "play by the normal rules," Ellis stated that "conservatives protect and defend the Constitution for everyone, not a Democrat playbook."

The vote from lawmakers comes after DeSantis had called for the removal of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which has allowed the company in central Florida to operate its own local government.

Following Wednesday's move in the state Senate, the bill now heads to the Florida state House, which is also controlled by the GOP. If passed in the House and signed into law by DeSantis, Disney could lose their special designation by June 1, 2023.

If DeSantis and Florida legislators were to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, it could potentially make residents in Orange and Osceola counties responsible for liabilities of anywhere between $1 billion and $2 billion, according to Florida State Senator Gary Farmer, a Democrat.

In response to Newsweek's request for comment, DeSantis' office sent the following statement:

The governor has consistently supported a more level playing field for all businesses in Florida. It is not "retaliatory" to pass legislation that allows all corporations to do business in a fairer environment.

The proclamation from our office at the start of this special session called on the legislature to examine the existence of all special districts. Disney benefits from one of these special districts.

The special district associated with Disney has existed for decades, since before Governor DeSantis was born. Special districts could in some instances show favoritism. Should a corporation be serving as a regulator and a business at the same time? Should a corporation get to avoid standard environmental permitting processes? Should a corporation engage in eminent domain? Other businesses don't get these privileges.

Moreover, it was unfortunate that Disney decided to wade into a political debate and attempt to overturn a common-sense law, enacted by a duly elected legislature and signed by a duly elected governor, with the support of the vast majority of Floridians. In fact, it was Disney that "retaliated" by publicly vowing to "repeal" or have the law "struck down."

DeSantis' office also indicated that the statement was not specifically crafted in response to Ellis' tweets. The office pointed out that "Chick-fil-a does not have its own special district in California or anywhere else."

Additionally, Ellis later told Newsweek surrounding the Disney situation in Florida:

The point of constitutionally protected free speech is to speak without threat of government censorship or retaliation. Gov. DeSantis and Florida Republicans openly admit that their revocation of Disney's special entitlements are in retaliation to Disney's statements objecting to the Parental Rights in Education Bill. This is weaponizing government to punish a private company for exercising free speech. Republicans like DeSantis have championed Elon Musk's fight for free speech, have called Democrats petty tyrants for censorship of conservative speech, and yet seem perfectly fine with retaliating against Disney when they speak viewpoints conservatives don't prefer. This is the height of hypocrisy and anti-free speech.

The principle of the Constitution's protections demand[s] that speech must be protected for all, especially political speech and the right to engage on public policy. If Chick-fil-A had its own special district in California and Gov. Newsom and the General Assembly retaliated against that corporation for expressing conservative views, DeSantis would be the first to say that's wrong and tyrannical.

I hope DeSantis reconsiders and applies the same principle here. If not, I will offer my legal services to Disney for free to fight against this unconstitutional overreach, not based on agreement with Disney's statement, but to defend their right to say it, free from government retaliation.

Update 4/21/22, 4:25 PM ET: This story has been updated with a comment by Jenna Ellis to Newsweek.

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