Briefing

DeSantis' controversial suspension of a Tampa prosecutor, explained

Why the suspension of Andrew Warren is being cheered — and excoriated

Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) suspended Tampa-area State Attorney Andrew Warren for supposedly putting "himself publicly above the law." Here's everything you need to know:

Why did DeSantis suspend Warren?

At a press conference on Aug. 4, DeSantis announced that he was suspending Warren, who was elected in 2016 and re-elected in 2020, for "flagrantly violat[ing]" his "oath of office," neglecting his duties, and "displaying a lack of competence." Warren, DeSantis said, had signed statements refusing to prosecute anyone seeking or providing abortions or gender transition treatments.

A Florida law banning abortion after 15 weeks took effect on July 1. The state's Board of Medicine has taken steps to ban gender-affirming hormone therapies and surgeries for minors, but so far, Florida has not passed any law against these treatments.

DeSantis dismissed the idea that Warren was legitimately exercising his prosecutorial discretion. "Yes, you can exercise discretion in an individual case, but that discretion has to be individualized and case-specific. You can't just say you're not going to do certain offenses," the governor said.

Each has accused the other of anti-democratic behavior. Warren claims DeSantis has invalidated the wishes of Tampa-area voters "who share my vision for criminal justice" and "trust my judgment," while DeSantis argues that Warren sought to "nullify laws that were enacted by the people's representatives."

Is DeSantis allowed to do that?

The short answer is "yes." Florida law empowers the governor to deliver an "order of suspension" to the state Senate containing "facts sufficient to advise both the [public] officer and the Senate as to the charges made or the basis of the suspension." In 2019, DeSantis exercised this power to suspend Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel after law enforcement failed to stop a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The longer answer is "we'll see." Warren has promised that his legal team will mount a "vigorous defense" against his suspension. "I'm not going down without a fight. I refuse to let [DeSantis] trample on your freedoms to speak your mind, to make your own health care decisions, and to have your vote count," he said in a video posted to Facebook on Sunday. 

State law specifies that Warren's case will go before the state Senate, which could then confirm or overturn his suspension. Republicans outnumber Democrats 23-16 in the Florida Senate.

How is this going over?

In a blistering editorial, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel slammed DeSantis' suspension of Warren as the "deed of a tyrant drunk with power, inflamed with presidential ambition, and accustomed to ruthlessness as the first resort rather than the last in having his way." In an editorial for The Palm Beach Post, Howard L. Simon was likewise vehement that DeSantis is in the wrong: "It is important to note that the governor failed to cite any case that the state attorney allegedly neglected or mishandled. Just how stupid does DeSantis think we are?" Warren's real offense, Simon claimed, is that "he is a critic of DeSantis' distracting culture war obsessions."

"Sunshine State Republicans, however, praised the bold move," writes the New York Post, quoting Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody who tweeted that "In Florida, we #BackTheBlue, #FundThePolice, and take strong action to defend the rule of law from those who seek to undermine it. @GovRonDeSantis takes very seriously his constitutional responsibility to ensure our laws are faithfully executed." Brian Dugan, a former chief of the Tampa Police Department, told The New York Times that "Andrew Warren is a fraud."

How does this tie into the broader fight over progressive prosecutors?

"Our government is a government of laws, not a government of men," DeSantis said at the press conference announcing Warren's suspension, adding "yet we've seen across this country, over the last few years, individual prosecutors take it upon themselves to determine which laws they like and will enforce and which laws they don't like and then don't enforce, and the results of this in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco have been catastrophic."

DeSantis further targeted Warren as being a "Soros-backed state attorney," a reference to the Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire George Soros, who is a "lightning rod for conservative and right-wing groups who object to his funding of liberal causes," in the words of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Why is Soros a talking point in all of this?

While progressive Jewish outlet Forward notes that "Soros is connected to Warren through his donations to the Florida Democratic Party, which the party, in turn, disperses to its candidates, possibly including Warren," the idea that a cabal of ultra-rich Jewish internationalists are secretly working to subvert Western civilization has long been an antisemitic trope. And no single person is more strongly associated with that trope than Soros.

"A person who promotes a Soros conspiracy theory may not intend to promulgate antisemitism. But Soros' Jewish identity is so well-known that in many cases it is hard not to infer that meaning," the ADL explained in 2018. The ADL further notes that Soros has been used as a "punching bag" not only by American far-right groups and authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe, but also by nationalists in Israel.

In this particular instance, Soros recently penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he explained that he is funding the campaigns of "reform-minded prosecutors" across the country to advance an agenda that includes "prioritizing the resources of the criminal-justice system to protect people against violent crime," treating "drug addiction as a disease," and ending "the criminalization of poverty and mental illness." Indeed, the "sack[ing]" of a "Soros-backed prosecutor" was a primary point of praise from Fox News host Tucker Carlson after Warren's suspension. "For six years, Warren has refused to enforce laws that George Soros doesn't like," Carlson alleged. "Today, that ended."

Recently, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has similarly voiced criticism of Democrats' support of so-called "Soros-backed prosecutors," phrasing that has prompted heated pushback. "This is how antisemitism takes root and spreads," Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, tweeted afterward, as reported by Florida Politics. "What is a 'Soros' backed prosecutor?"

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