The law, in its majesty, has several lovely lyrical Latin terms to add a scholarly sense of dignity and profundity to commonly used phrases like “friend of the court (amicus curiae),” “it speaks for itself (ipsa loquitur),” “prima facie (at first glance), and “among other things (inter alia).”
So perhaps Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Harvard-educated lawyer with a solid record of mixing the law with crowd-pleasing politics, could add another lofty Latin dictum to our legal lexicon:
“Non amo te.”
High school Latin was a long time ago, but I think that translates (or close enough) to “I don’t like you.”
As in, "What’s your legal basis for this?" "It’s because I don’t like you."
That’s reason enough for powerful leaders to do lots of things. Richard Nixon even made an “enemies list” of persona non grata, to use a little more Latin.
Recent columns by Bill Cotterell –
- We need to see Trump's day in court on TV
- Biden conference calls should have a paper trail
- Unforced errors continue to hobble DeSantis presidential campaign
But DeSantis, in his second term as governor, seems especially adept at putting his likes and dislikes into action as he seeks the presidency.
He didn’t like, for instance, how two legally elected Florida prosecutors were doing their jobs. That’s why State Attorney Andrew Warren of Tampa and State Attorney Monique Worrell of Orlando are no longer doing their jobs, having been suspended by DeSantis for technically different reasons.
But the governor’s reasons essentially boil down to the same thing — "non amo te."
The voters knew what Worrell and Warren stood for, and liked them enough to elect them. The state attorneys didn’t violate any laws. There was no great public outcry, no corruption, no horribly botched trials to justify their removal.
And yet DeSantis moved against them with all the deft political nuance of Mel Brooks’ oafish frontier governor, William J. Le Petomane, in “Blazing Saddles.”
State attorneys have discretion to decide which offenders deserve diversion, a plea deal or to have the ol’ book thrown at them. Governors, too, have wide latitude in the Florida Constitution, which lets them remove elected officers found to be incompetent or lazy. That’s a judgment call and, in the governor’s judgment, Warren and Worrell went about it all wrong.
Needing a pretext, he cited Warren’s criticism of abortion restrictions the prosecutor considers unconstitutional, as well as a statement he signed opposing some transgender stuff that looms large in the governor’s culture war campaigning. The suspension order for Worrell (40 pages with attachments) listed statistics indicating that serious offenders had a roughly 50-50 chance of getting nolle prossed (their cases dropped).
Those are close enough criteria when a governor caters to a law-and-order base of GOP voters in, oh, perhaps Iowa and New Hampshire.
And while he’d like nothing more than to see Donald Trump’s political career crash in those states, this is the same Ron DeSantis who solemnly warns against “the criminalization of politics” in the indictment of the MAGA Georgia gang. Uh-huh.
Warren is fighting his suspension in court. A federal judge in Tallahassee agreed with him that DeSantis’ actions were an affront to the law — not to mention fair play and common sense — but found that he lacked legal authority to order Warren’s reinstatement. Warren is appealing that ruling.
Worrell is fighting her ouster, too, with an added element of race. She’s already running next year against the man DeSantis chose to replace her.
DeSantis isn’t the first Florida governor to fire locally elected officials who have a different idea of what their jobs entail. More than 50 years ago, Gov. Claude Kirk ousted the Manatee County school board for complying with busing orders. Kirk backed off when a federal judge told him to.
DeSantis has booted numerous local officials, including a sheriff, a county elections supervisor and some school board members.
Nor is firing folks the only way DeSantis has left tire tracks across the backs of city, county and district officers.
He stifled mask mandates during the COVID crisis. He took sides in 2022 school board races and waged a “war on woke” that purged classrooms of books his supporters consider age-inappropriate. His appointees are changing New College of Florida from a sort of hipster, avant-garde institution into something out of a Norman Rockwell fantasy of long-ago America.
He’s even managed to start a culture war skirmish with Disney, which he now says the state wants to “move on” from.
This is the “free state of Florida” DeSantis offers to bring to all of the country as president.
Bill Cotterell is a retired capitol reporter for United Press International and the Tallahassee Democrat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.