The decision by Federal District Judge Robert Hinkle on Monday to deny Andrew Warren’s request for immediate reinstatement as Hillsborough County’s State Attorney is logical.
Had he immediately reinstated Warren, Hinkle correctly ruled it could start “yo-yo-ing” the office. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who suspended Warren for saying he wouldn’t prosecute abortion cases, immediately would have appealed.
If the Governor won, then Susan Lopez — who replaced Warren — would go back in the office, and, well, it would have been an unholy mess.
It’s better to have a trial on the legality of DeSantis’ muzzle move and get a ruling.
Consider this, though.
Warren might get back in office even if he loses the case.
He could run again in 2024, and I’d lay good odds that he would. Hillsborough is a blue county, with about 54,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. Voters already elected Warren twice, and it would not be a surprise if they did it again.
If that happened and DeSantis was the Governor, would he preemptively suspend Warren again?
Yes, that’s getting ahead of things. Besides, I doubt DeSantis would even care at that point because he already got what he wanted out of this bizarre episode. With an eye on re-election now and a possible White House bid in 2024, DeSantis wanted to look tough on crime and pander to the anti-abortion crowd.
Suspending Warren accomplished both goals, and the Governor wins with that group no matter the outcome.
If Warren ultimately prevails with his argument that the suspension is a First Amendment violation — which it might be — DeSantis could play the victim and rail about liberal judges. His base would be sympathetic.
Remember that Warren never faced an abortion case under Florida’s new 15-week law. Saying he wouldn’t prosecute patients and doctors who violate that is not the same as actually refusing to do so. But when Warren made his stand, it gave the politically ambitious DeSantis an opening to grab a headline.
Hinkle, the Senior Judge of the federal Northern District of Florida, seemed to lean toward Warren’s free-speech argument.
“If you say ‘everyone agrees’ any statement of policy by a State Attorney isn’t protected by the First Amendment, you need to exclude me from that,” Hinkle told Solicitor General Henry Whitaker, who represents the state’s case.
And when Whitaker argued that Warren was a government employee, Hinkle reminded him that Warren was an elected official.
So, we wait a while longer for a resolution to yet another one of the Governor’s tough-guy plays. This seems to be how it goes with many of DeSantis’ moves. He issues an order of dubious legality, owns the news cycle for a few days, and pounds his chest while the legal machinery grinds on.
We’ve seen this movie before. The characters change, but the plot remains the same.