Lawfare in Action: Breaking Down DeSantis vs. Disney

Disney’s risky legal plan to out-maneuver DeSantis puts the culture war front-and-center

What’s happening: Disney leadership quietly moved to strip power from a new DeSantis-appointed board "until twenty-one years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, King of England,” utilizing a legal framework common in the United Kingdom to tie the length of agreements to dates far into the future. This move caught Governor DeSantis off guard, who has vowed to investigate the matter.

The context: Governor Ron DeSantis and the Republican-led Florida legislature has taken a hard-line stance on Disney after the company publicly opposed the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill in 2022, which limited teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity to young students. The company historically has a strong lobbying influence in Florida’s legislature, but Gov. DeSantis has vowed to change this.

In response: DeSantis wants to reform Disney’s self-governing Reedy Creek Improvement District, transfer control from the company to the governor’s office, and repeal its special tax status. Disney has enjoyed special district autonomy since 1967, allowing the company to levy taxes and control utility services without state oversight. As POLITICO reported,

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday promised a new round of action against Disney in his ongoing dispute with the entertainment giant, including looking at the taxes on Disney’s hotels and imposing tolls on roads that serve its theme parks…

The DeSantis administration is also examining if a recent agreement approved between a Central Florida board that had been controlled by Disney and the company runs afoul of the state’s growth laws, according to senior administration officials.

Why it matters: Disney, a company once risk-averse to taking political stances, waded into new territory when it publicly inserted itself into the education debate last year. As covered in last week’s Upward+ deep dive, the left’s long march through the institutions has spread to major businesses. The Disney-DeSantis fight is exemplary of Republicans “using the power of the state to roll back the left’s takeover of major U.S. institutions by replicating a strategy foundational to the modern left.” As DeSantis told a crowd during a speech at Hillsdale College,

“[Disney] is not superior to the people of Florida…come hell or high water we’re going to make sure that policy of Florida carries the day. And so they can keep trying to do things. But ultimately we’re going to win on every single issue involving Disney I can tell you that.”