Judge Blocks DeSantis’s Anti-Protest Bill, Compares It to Jim Crow-Era Legislation

Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee blocked Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s anti-protest bill, saying that the backlash from officials to people celebrating Juneteenth and engaging in peaceful protest mirrors the racist backlash to protests against Jim Crow laws during the 1960s.

The Florida law was enacted in April and received harsh criticism for new definitions of rioting and incitement that empower authorities to arrest anyone who attends a protest where violence occurs.

Judge Walker wrote that DeSantis and Florida officials “conflated a community celebration of a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery with a protest.”

“In 1956 and 1961, Florida’s anti-riot laws were used to suppress activities threatening the state’s Jim Crow status quo. However, the definition of ‘riot’ and ‘inciting a riot’ were not clearly defined by Florida Statute. It was not until 1975 that the Florida Supreme Court explained that both terms, though undefined by statute, should be construed according to their common-law definitions,” he wrote.

“What’s past is prologue,” he added.

Walker issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the new definition of rioting under the Combating Public Disorder Act.