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“This is our January 6 moment”: Florida Dems freak out at DeSantis for suspending prosecutor

Lotta gamesmanship happening on both sides here. As noted yesterday, DeSantis is protecting his right flank ahead of 2024 by suspending Andrew Warren, the D.A. in Hillsborough County who pledged not to prosecute abortionists. The 15-week abortion ban that DeSantis signed a few months ago is conspicuously more moderate than the strict bans championed by some red-state governors. His opponents in a GOP presidential primary will demand to know why he didn’t fight harder to end abortion in Florida. Suspending Warren is DeSantis’s way of showing pro-lifers that he fought, sort of.

Meanwhile, Florida Democrats hoping to knock him off in this fall’s gubernatorial race now sense an opening. The 15-week ban doesn’t give them much to complain about since it’s in line with what most Americans prefer on abortion — legal early, illegal later. A big fight in Florida over whether late-term abortion should be permitted won’t help Team Blue and might even backfire. A big fight over Warren’s suspension is better for them. Now they get to accuse DeSantis of pro-life “extremism” and of disenfranchising Warren’s voters, hoping that the same pro-choice energy that routed pro-lifers in Kansas last week will save Democrats in Florida this November.

And so a very public freakout has begun, to make sure the state’s pro-choice majority is paying attention to the DeSantis/Warren saga.

“What’s next after this if we roll over?” Hillsborough County Commissioner Mariella Smith asked the crowd.

“This is our January 6 moment,” Commissioner Pat Kemp added…

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor: “The governor’s actions constitute an extreme abuse of power — a new low for DeSantis who fails our great state with his mean-spirited, selfish and fiscally-irresponsible focus on his political ambitions alone.”

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist: “This is a guy (DeSantis) who went to Harvard and Yale and he doesn’t understand how to read the constitution.”

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor: “Removing a duly elected official should be based on egregious actions — not political statements. In a free state, voters should choose their elected officials.”

“Gov. Ron DeSantis’ suspension Thursday of Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren was politically craven, legally suspect, suspiciously timed and odorously soaked in autocracy, partisanship and bad faith — in other words, completely in keeping with this governor’s behavior,” begins the Tampa Bay Times’s editorial today titled “DeSantis: You’re not king of Florida.” Right, he’s not the king, but Warren isn’t king of Hillsborough County either. The closest thing to a king that the state has is the legislature. And the legislature decided that performing abortions after 15 weeks should be a crime.

So who is Warren to say that it shouldn’t?

The Times goes on to describe DeSantis’s actions as a “putsch”(!), emphasizing that Warren was chosen by the voters of the county. But that’s no answer, as all of the key players here were also chosen by voters. Republican legislators were chosen by the voters of their districts and DeSantis, of course, was chosen by the voters of the state. They’ll have a chance to fire him three short months from now if they’re unhappy with his actions towards Warren. (And based on the result in Kansas, they might be.) Until then, complaining that Warren’s voters have been disenfranchised ignores how the state’s voters would be disenfranchised if prosecutors were able to effectively veto criminal laws passed by the people’s representatives by declining to enforce them.

Notwithstanding all of the heavy breathing this week about “prosecutorial discretion,” remember that Warren pledged not to prosecute abortion cases *as a rule*. Discretion is when you look at the facts of each case and decide, based on those specific facts, whether charges should be brought. Vowing to ignore the facts in a certain class of cases and to never bring charges isn’t discretion, it’s usurpation of legislative authority. It’s de facto nullification of a state statute.

Ed reminded me in an email earlier that there’s actually recent precedent in Florida for a governor removing a prosecutor who set a blanket policy instead of exercising discretion. Rick Scott removed a D.A. a few years ago who pledged never to seek the death penalty in capital cases. The Florida Supreme Court upheld that removal. And even the dissent acknowledged that a case like Warren’s would be problematic. “When State Attorney Ayala announced that her office would not seek the death penalty in capital prosecutions, she acted well within the bounds of Florida law regarding the death penalty,” Justice Barbara Pariente wrote. “She did not announce a refusal to prosecute the guilt of defendants charged with first-degree murder.” Warren did announce a refusal to prosecute defendants charged with providing abortions, though. Presumably even Pariente would uphold DeSantis’s decision to remove him.

I repeat what I said yesterday: Warren’s in the wrong job. If he wants to make policy, he should run for legislative office, not D.A.

Meanwhile, pro-lifers shouldn’t be naive about how pro-choice prosecutors will react to this episode. The lesson for them won’t be that they have to prosecute abortionists; the lesson will be that they shouldn’t be as stupid as Warren was by announcing that they have a blanket policy not to prosecute abortionists. It’s a cinch that enforcement of abortion laws will be lax in blue districts across the country, and so long as there hasn’t been a pledge by the local D.A. not to charge anyone, that laxity will be spun as exercises of discretion. There are many Andrew Warrens out there but few willing to identify themselves as such.

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