Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has suspended a twice-elected state attorney for his refusal to prosecute abortion providers, doctors and families who provide gender-affirming care to transgender youth, and transgender people who use bathrooms that match their gender.
In a press conference surrounded by law enforcement on 4 August, the governor also accused 13th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Andrew Warren of failing to prosecute people accused of crimes to the fullest extent of his authority, reflecting what the governor called “incompetence and willful defiance of his duties.”
Mr Warren was among more than 100 prosecutors and officials from across the US who pledged not to prosecute abortion providers and abortion patients in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the constitutional right to abortion on 24 June, as more than a dozen states prepared to enact anti-abortion laws that criminalise abortion care.
Florida’s anti-abortion law outlaws the procedure at 15 weeks of pregnancy and makes no exception for rape or incest.
Mr Warren also has signed another pledge to use “discretion and not promote the criminalization of gender-affirming healthcare or transgender people”.
There are no current Florida laws that criminalise gender-affirming care or transgender people or pregnant people.
Florida’s Board of Medicine is expected to advance debunked guidelines to deny gender-affirming care to transgender young people in the state.
The administration – which also relied on spurious reporting to justify a ban on Medicaid coverage for transgender people of any age – has called on the state’s health department to ignore federal health guidelines and advise against all gender-affirming care for transgender minors in the state, including social transitioning measures like changing pronouns or wearing different clothes.
Florida’s education commissioner also told state schools on Thursday to ignore federal anti-discrmination laws protecting LGBT+ students and accused federal agencies of imposing “sexual ideology” on Florida schools “that risk the health, safety and welfare of Florida students.”
Mr Warren also has called one new state law promoted by Mr DeSantis that imposes stiff criminal penalties for crimes committed during a protest as “an assault on our democracy”. A federal judge has temporarily frozen that law.
The Independent has requested comment from Mr Warren’s office.
The governor’s announcement – previewed by his press secretary Christina Pushaw previewed as the “liberal media meltdown of the year” – was swiftly condemned by state officials and abortion rights and LGBT+ advocates.
Democratic state Rep Fentrice Driskell, Leader-Designate of the Florida House Democratic Caucus, called Mr Warren’s suspension a “shocking political attack on an elected official serving the people of Hillsborough County” that has thrown the county’s criminal justice system into “unnecessary chaos and confusion”.
“Every county prosecutor uses their discretion in handling cases in their communities,” she said in a statement. “Andrew Warren was operating fully within the appropriate discretion of his office, and if the people of Hillsborough County don’t like what he is doing, then we can make our voices heard at the ballot box. We did not need the Governor coming down from Tallahassee to punish someone he considers a political enemy.”
Ms Driskell also accused the governor of selective enforcement of state law, after his administration told school districts to ignore federal anti-discrimination laws and courts excoriated the administration and GOP lawmakers for Voting Rights Act violations.
“This clearly isn’t about being a government of laws, it’s about being the Kingdom of Ron DeSantis, and no dissent is tolerated,” she said.
Minority Leader state Senator Lauren Book also accused the governor of “behaving more like a dictator than ‘America’s governor.’”
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is running against Mr DeSantis as the Democratic candidate in the governor’s race, called Mr Warren’s suspension a “politically motivated attack on a universally respected state attorney democratically elected to exercise prosecutorial discretion.”