On Monday, American Oversight and several public interest groups filed an amicus brief in support of professors and a student at public universities in Florida who allege in a lawsuit that racial animus drove the enactment of last year’s “Stop WOKE” Act, the classroom censorship law that severely restricts Florida educators and students from discussing issues related to race and gender in higher education classrooms.
In October, two federal judges from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Florida legislators could withhold documents, sought by the plaintiffs through a subpoena, that could shed light on the creation of the law. The judges found that lawmakers’ claims of legislative privilege shields factual documents and outweighs the civil rights concerns brought by the plaintiffs. A third judge dissented and pointed out that the majority went well beyond the current state of the law.
The amicus brief calls on the 11th Circuit to grant a rehearing with all 12 of the court’s judges (as opposed to the three-person panel that decided this case on a 2–1 basis) to consider whether the panel’s unprecedented ruling can be squared with federal civil rights law.
The brief, filed by amici curiae American Oversight, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Common Cause, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and League of Women Voters of the United States, argues that the panel’s ruling will hinder the ability of citizens to redress intentional discrimination by legislative bodies. The ruling runs contrary to the purpose of Section 1983 of the U.S. Code’s Title 42, which grants individuals the right to sue state officials for civil rights violations and was enacted during the Reconstruction Era in response to egregious violations of individual rights by state actors, including legislators.
American Oversight filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Education earlier this year for public records related to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ongoing attacks on public education, including harsh limits on classroom instruction of U.S. history, particularly regarding the country’s struggles with racial justice and civil rights.
“The DeSantis administration’s efforts to stifle classroom discussion and rewrite history are a grave threat to the education and well-being of hundreds of thousands of students, teachers, and parents in Florida,” said American Oversight Executive Director Heather Sawyer when the lawsuit was filed.
The governor’s office has also been chipping away at access to public records in Florida, having invoked a nonexistent executive privilege to shield records from DeSantis’ office. He also approved a number of new legal exemptions designed to keep information hidden, including regarding his travel, and has stonewalled the release of public records. In July, American Oversight and other organizations filed an amicus brief challenging DeSantis’ assertion of executive privilege.
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