Florida Judge Says Governor’s ‘Stop Woke Act’ Can Go Forward

By Jannis Falkenstern
Jannis Falkenstern
Jannis Falkenstern
Jannis Falkenstern is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Florida.
June 28, 2022 Updated: June 28, 2022

PUNTA GORDA, Fla.—Florida Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled on June 27 that the state can enforce the “Stop Woke Act”—but did not rule on its constitutionality, nor a piece affecting colleges and universities.

The judge, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2012 and became chief justice in 2018, ruled that HB 7—or what Gov. Ron DeSantis branded as the “Stop Woke Act”—can move forward and regulate how race can be taught in the classroom and the workplace.

The new law is part of DeSantis’ education agenda that targets ties to Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the state school system as well as corporate training at companies surrounding “white privilege.”

The governor’s press secretary Christina Pushaw said DeSantis is not “planning to comment on the ruling,” but she said, “generally … we are confident that this law will ultimately survive all legal challenges and protect Floridians from the harmful effects of discriminatory woke ideology.”

In past press conferences DeSantis has said he did not want children to be taught now to “hate one another.”

Epoch Times Photo
Parents concerned about Critical Race Theory took home these buttons from a school board activist training Jan. 19 in Sarasota, Florida. (Alexis Spiegelman)

The ruling by Walker gives DeSantis a win, as the judge has frequently ruled against him, allowing the law to move forward—but made it clear that he was not ruling on the constitutionality of the law nor was his decision an endorsement of the law.

“This court is not determining whether the challenged regulations are constitutional, morally correct, or good policy,” Walker wrote in his ruling. “And this order should not be interpreted as endorsing the [legislation] or the related Board of Education regulation.”

In March, lawmakers passed HB 7 after strong debate on both house floors.

After the governor signed the measure a group of plaintiffs filed a lawsuit on April 22 claiming that it violated First Amendment rights. They also contested rules by the State Board of Education that banned the use of CRT.

The judge said that four of the plaintiffs “lacked legal standing” to obtain a preliminary injunction.

Those four were identified as a high-school government and economics teacher in Manatee County, a Leon County substitute teacher, a Nassau County child entering kindergarten, and a consulting firm that provides diversity and inclusion training.

He said the teachers, student, and consultant had not shown any “injury-related” proof needed to establish standing.

The judge said in his 23-page opinion that the Florida Board of Education, a defendant in the case, can withhold funding from school districts that do not comply with the measure. However, Walker said teachers did not demonstrate how that would directly injure them.

“Plaintiffs’ logic goes like this: pursuant to its statutory authority, the Board of Education will withhold funding from the teachers’ school districts if they violate the challenged provisions,” the judge wrote.

“In turn, members of the school board will withhold money from the teachers’ individual schools—or, perhaps, put pressure on officials at those schools to discipline the teachers.

“In other words, the teachers’ theory of traceability and redressability flows from the board to the school district, from the school district to the teachers’ school, and—only then—to the teachers.

“Thus, plaintiffs’ argument requires the court to stack multiple layers of inferences.”

In the case of the consultant, he said she did not establish injuries by the law.

“[She] does not claim that she has lost clients, that clients have told her they will no longer hire her, or that clients have even expressed trepidation about hiring her,” Walker wrote.

Left unresolved by the judge is the preliminary injunction requested by Robert Cassanello, an associate history professor at the University of Central Florida (UCF).

The request from Cassanello—filed the week of June 20—pointed to a proposed rule that is scheduled to go before the state university system’s Board of Governors on June 30.

The rule that was proposed by universities would direct how the law should be carried out.

In other words, the concern is that it raises the possibility that faculty members could be disciplined for non-compliance with university regulations on the issue.

The judge ordered attorneys on both sides to file briefs by noon June 28 on whether the proposed rule could affect Cassanello’s legal standing in the case.

The week of June 20 a separate lawsuit challenging the law was filed by two Florida businesses and a consultant who conducts workplace training. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Tallahassee.

The case is currently pending.

Jannis Falkenstern is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Florida.