A federal appeals court said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis violated the First Amendment rights of former Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, who DeSantis suspended from office in 2022 over neglect of duty and incompetence.
In a unanimous ruling on Wednesday, a three-judge panel on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said a lower court failed to consider certain First Amendment violations made by DeSantis when he removed Warren and remanded the case.
DeSantis suspended Warren in 2022 via executive order for “neglect of duty,” after the prosecutor declared he would not prosecute anyone who violates state abortion restrictions, nor would he prosecute those who violate prohibitions against certain types of gender-transition treatment for minors.
The Eleventh Circuit panel found DeSantis “lacked probable cause to believe Warren neglected his duty or war incompetent.”
“The First Amendment prevents DeSantis from identifying a reform prosecutor and then suspending him to garner political benefit,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jill Pryor wrote. “On remand, DeSantis must prove that unprotected activity, such as Warren’s actual performance or his policies, motivated him to suspend Warren.”
The panel consisted of Pryor, an Obama appointee, U.S. Circuit Judge Kevin Newsome, a Trump appointee, and U.S. District Judge Anne Conway, a George H.W. Bush appointee.
A DeSantis spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Following DeSantis’ suspension of Warren last year, the governor told Fox News at the time: “I do think that some of these prosecutors that have very militant agenda in terms of ideology have been able to get away with a lot in other states … We’ve had prosecutors around this country that think they can pick and choose which laws to enforce.”
DeSantis has called Warren a “Soros-backed” prosecutor and taken credit for firing him in stump speeches as he campaigns for the 2024 Republican nomination for president.
Warren sued DeSantis after he was suspended last year, claiming that the suspension was retaliation for opposing the governor’s policies and positions.
“This is what we’ve been fighting for from the beginning — the protection of democracy,” Warren posted on X after the panel ruled in his favor. “We look forward to returning to the district court for the relief that has been denied to me and all the voters of Hillsborough County for 17 months: reinstating the person elected by the voters.”
Tallahasee-based U.S. Judge Robert Hinkle previously found that DeSantis’ decision to suspend Warren violated the U.S. Constituion and Florida state Constitution, but upheld the suspension anyway.
The lower court identified six factors that influenced DeSantis’ decision and said two of those factors violated Warren’s First Amendment rights. However, Hinkle ruled the governor would have suspended Warren based on the other four factors anyway and ruled in DeSantis’ favor.
The Eleventh Circuit said two more factors identified by the lower court were protected by the FIrst Amendment and sent the case back to Tallahassee for reconsideration.
“On remand, DeSantis must prove that unprotected activity, such as Warren’s actual performance or his policies, motivated him to suspend Warren,” the court said.
Earlier this week, Warren announced he’s not seeking re-election as state attorney. DeSantis appointed Suzy Lopez to replace him and Lopez is running for reelection.
Fox News Digital’s Kyle Morris contributed to this report.