Judge refuses action against DeSantis over effort to remove Students for Justice in Palestine off campuses

A federal judge delivered a win of sorts for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday, refusing to take action against the recent Republican presidential drop-out over efforts to deactivate pro-Palestinian student groups protesting on college campuses amid the Israel-Hamas war. Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker on Wednesday denied injunctions sought by the University of Florida and University of South Florida chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine to prevent their deactivation on free speech grounds, essentially because nothing has been done to follow through with the directive and the groups are still active. State university Board of Governors Chancellor Ray Rodrigues wrote to university presidents in October at DeSantis’ urging, directing them to disband chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine. He argued the groups were violating Florida law deeming it a felony to “knowingly provide material support … to a designated foreign terrorist organization.”In response to Hamas’ October 7 attack on southern Israel, “and leading up to a “Day of Resistance,” the National Students for Justice in Palestine (National SJP) released a “toolkit” which refers to Operation Al-Aqsa Flood as ‘the resistance’ and unequivocally states: ‘Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement, not in solidarity with this movement,’” Rodrigues wrote. “These chapters exist under the headship of the National Students for Justice in Palestine, who distributed a toolkit identifying themselves as part of the Operation AlAqsa Flood.” JUDGE DISMISSES DISNEY’S LAWSUIT ALLEGING RETALIATION BY DESANTISThe American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of the University of Florida Students for Justice in Palestine chapter to prevent deactivation, but Walker wrote that Rodrigues overstepped his authority. “Neither the Governor, nor the Chancellor, nor the BOG (Board of Governors) have the formal power to punish student organizations,” Warner said.”This Court does not fault [the students] for feeling anxious about the fact that the Governor — arguably the most powerful man in Florida — has repeatedly disparaged [group] members as ‘terrorists,’” Walker wrote Wednesday, according to Politico. “But this Court rejects counsel’s suggestion that it should find … that [student groups have] standing simply because someone cloaked with great power makes coercive statements.”Individual university boards of trustees, which have that power, have not taken any steps to disband the groups, and Walker said Rodrigues has acknowledged that the student chapters are not under the control of the national organization. “In short, the record demonstrates that neither deactivation nor criminal investigation is imminent,” Walker wrote. “Instead, this Court finds that no actions have been taken in pursuit of deactivation under the Chancellor’s memorandum.”RON DESANTIS CALLS FOR ILHAN OMAR’S DEPORTATION, EXPULSION FROM CONGRESS FOR ‘SOMALIA FIRST’ COMMENTSThings could change if the deactivation order is enforced. “Florida officials are now on notice that if they attempt to enforce the deactivation order, we will be back in court to uphold our client’s First Amendment rights,” Brian Hauss, senior staff attorney with ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said in a statement.While campaigning for president, DeSantis, who has since dropped out of the race, claimed preemptive victory in kicking the pro-Palestinian groups off Florida campuses at a time when anti-Israel demonstrations fanned the flames of rampant anti-Semitism and even threats against Jewish students at other elite American universities. “We deactivated them,” DeSantis said during the Republican presidential debate in November. “We’re not going to use state tax dollars to fund jihad — no way.”In an unrelated case Wednesday, DeSantis achieved another win after a federal judge threw out a lawsuit by Disney against the governor. The Associated Press contributed to this report. 
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