US judge blocks enforcement of Florida 'anti-riot' law

Curt Anderson
Associated Press

St. Petersburg, Fla. — Florida's new “anti-riot” law championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis as a way to quell violent protests is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

The 90-page decision by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee found the recently-enacted law “vague and overbroad” and amounted to an assault on First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly as well as the Constitution's due process protections.

People engaged in peaceful protest or innocently in the same area when a demonstration turned violent could face criminal charges and stiff penalties under the law, the judge said.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla.

“If this court does not enjoin the statute’s enforcement, the lawless actions of a few rogue individuals could effectively criminalize the protected speech of hundreds, if not thousands, of law-abiding Floridians,” Walker wrote.

“It unfortunately takes only a handful of bad actors to transform a peaceful protest into a violent public disturbance,” the judge added.

The lawsuit was filed against DeSantis and other state officials by the NAACP Florida conference, Dream Defenders, Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward and other groups who argue the law appears specifically aimed to halt protests by Black people and other minorities.

The measure was passed earlier this year by the GOP-led Legislature and signed into law in April by the governor. It was a reaction to demonstrations around the country following last year’s killing by Minneapolis police of George Floyd, a Black man, that stirred passions nationwide under the banner of the Black Lives Matter Movement.