Federal Judge Blocks Florida’s ‘Anti-Riot’ Law Championed by Governor Ron DeSantis

A federal judge on Sept. 9 blocked Florida’s “anti-riot” law championed by Governor Ron DeSantis, ruling it as unconstitutional and vague.

United States District Judge Mark Walker ruled that HB1, which DeSantis signed into law last April to curb violent protests in Florida, infringed the First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly and the Constitution’s due process protections.

According to Walker, HB1 was “vague and overbroad” as it failed to “clearly” define the word “riot” and “inciting a riot.”

“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 in the 90-page decision.

“Because it is unclear whether a person must share an intent to do violence and because it is unclear what it means to participate, the statute can plausibly be read to criminalize continuing to protest after violence occurs, even if the protestors are not involved in, and do not support, the violence,” Walker further said.

Several groups, including The Dream Defenders, The Black Collective, and the Black Lives Matter Alliance of Broward, filed the lawsuit against DeSantis, arguing that HB1 specifically targeted to quell protests by Black people and other minorities.

In a joint statement with the plaintiff groups, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida praised the decision, saying that it “will greatly contribute to the safety of Black organizers and others affected by this unjust law.”

“We are glad the court has agreed to suspend enforcement of this key provision while we continue to advocate to ensure that protesters in Florida can safely exercise their right to speak out against injustice,” ACLU Florida further said.

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