Federal judge blocks Florida from enforcing anti-riot law

The Center Square
By John Haughey
September 10, 2021

Virus Outbreak Florida
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference Monday, May 18, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. John Raoux / AP

(The Center Square) – Another controversial 2021 bill adopted by Florida lawmakers during one of their most ideologically-charged legislative sessions in decades has been set aside by a judge.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker Thursday released a 90-page ruling declaring ‘The Combating Public Disorder Act,’ the anti-riot bill adopted along strict partisan lines, is “vague to the point of unconstitutionality” and questioned if it could be enforced equitably.

During a hearing last week in his Tallahassee courtroom, Walker said the “primary issue” of contention “is the language and syntax” in the 61-page House Bill 1 and called on all attorneys engaged in the litigation to offer definition of “riot.”

Apparently, he wasn’t satisfied with their submissions.

“HB1’s new definition of ‘riot’ both fails to put Floridians of ordinary intelligence on notice of what acts it criminalizes and encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement, making this provision vague to the point of unconstitutionality,” Walker wrote in the order granting a temporary injunction against the law until the issue is settled in court.

Walker wrote that HB 1 “requires individuals to ‘speculate as to the meaning of penal statutes,’ at the risk of their liberty.”

The ACLU, NAACP, Community Justice Project and Dream Defenders in May filed a 62-page federal lawsuit claiming HB 1, signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in April, will chill protected First Amendment speech, violate equal-protection and due process rights, and give police too much power.

Pondering dueling motions – with the state seeking to dismiss and plaintiffs petitioning for an injunction – Walker ordered mediation in July but state attorneys motioned to forego the process and to dismiss the case. That gambit resulted in Thursday’s rulings after hearings last week.

HB 1 enhances penalties for crimes committed during protests, requires people arrested during demonstrations stay in jail until a court appearance, creates “mob intimidation” felonies preempts local control of law enforcement budgets and allows local governments to be sued if they fail to stop a riot.

The new law defines “riot” as a violent public disturbance involving “three or more people acting with common intent” and creates second-degree felony called “aggravated riot,” which occurs when there’s more than 25 participants, bodily harm, more than $5,000 in property damage, use or threats to use deadly weapons and/or blocked roadways.

HB 1 is at least the second 2021 bill adopted by lawmakers to be suspended by a judge. Dozens are being challenged in court

In August, U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor issued an injunction preventing the Florida Elections Commission from enforcing contribution caps to committees sponsoring petition drives outlined in Senate Bill 1890, another measure adopted along strict party lines.

The state has not appealed Winsor’s ruling as yet, so it is not seeking a stay on the injunction.

Florida, however, is appealing and seeking a stay on the injunction issued by Leon County Judge John Cooper Wednesday enjoining it from implementing a DeSantis’ executive order, based on HB 241, the ‘Parents’ Bill of Rights Act,’ which allows parents to ignore school mask mandates and penalizes school boards that adopt such policies.

In court before Walker last week, plaintiffs’ attorneys argued HB 1 is chilling free speech with civil rights groups reporting declining memberships and demonstration participation.

HB 1’s “chilling effect” may be in the eye of the beholder, Walker wrote in his ruling, but it’s a real constitutional concern.

“While there may be some Floridians who welcome the ‘chilling effect’ that this law has on the Plaintiffs in this case,” he wrote, “depending on who is in power, next time it could be their ox being gored.”

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Mark Tomes
Noble Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
2 years ago

Republican legislators don’t mind curbing the freedoms of others when it fits their own ideological perspectives, but they don’t have the broadmindedness to understand freedom as a concept itself, that it works two ways.

Sherry Harrell
Sherry Harrell(@sherry-harrell)
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

Mark, freedom works both ways. If you want to get into the weeds of Republican vs Democrats, please tell me how we have freedom if we are forced to receive a shot that has killed over 100K people and has unknown long term negative side effects. What will happen in 2 years, 50 years? What about the next generation of offspring from these people that have been vaccinated? Too many unknowns for me to feel comfortable to receive the shot, yet Biden wants to force the rest of us to take the shot. Conveniently, Congress and Federal Judges are exempt. Ask yourself why that would be.

We cannot allow the government to creep along with small mandates until we wake up and see ourselves enslaved by this same overreaching government.

Wake up people!!

Richard Norman Kurpiers
Richard Norman Kurpiers (@guest_62488)
2 years ago
Reply to  Sherry Harrell

I feel like Rip Van Winkle. What shot are we being forced to receive that has killed over 100K people?

Chris Hadden
Chris Hadden (@guest_62499)
2 years ago
Reply to  Sherry Harrell

A shot that killed 100k people? That is quite a story, one I have never heard. I am most interested, please site your source for these claims.

Doug Mowery
Doug Mowery(@douglasm)
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

Interesting comment coming so soon after Biden’s “Your body, my choice” directive the other day. Everyone, regardless of party affiliation, should be deeply concerned about the slippery slope Biden has stepped out on. That camels nose in the tent could be extrapolated to a lot of areas beyond a vaccine.

Barnes Moore
Barnes Moore (@guest_62479)
2 years ago

So, let’s just invite ANTIFA and BLM to the state so they can hold more of their mostly peaceful protests here. HR1 is a common sense law. What is ambiguous about this statement “The new law defines “riot” as a violent public disturbance involving “three or more people acting with common intent” and creates second-degree felony called “aggravated riot,” which occurs when there’s more than 25 participants, bodily harm, more than $5,000 in property damage, use or threats to use deadly weapons and/or blocked roadways”.

Chris Hadden
Chris Hadden (@guest_62501)
2 years ago
Reply to  Barnes Moore

Please do not leave out the most egregious rioters. Those Trump supporters from January 6th. If the goal is prevent those people from coming to Florida, I might support the law.