Florida Governor Ron DeSantis holds regular press conference where he issues new policies intended to curb the freedoms of some marginalized group or to impose his views on the whole state. Whenever he eliminates someone’s freedom, he boasts about Florida standing for “freedom.” What he means is that in Florida, everyone is free to agree with him.

Obviously he’s running for the Republican nomination for President, and he has decided that he must out-Trump Trump. He must be more racist, more homophobic, more xenophobic, and more contemptuous of democratic norms than Trump.

Trump often complained about his inability to sue reporters who criticized him. Many years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that prominent public figures could not sue the press for libel unless they are able to prove “malicious intent.” This standard was so high that it was virtually impossible for a president or governor or senator to sue and win.

DeSantis intends to change that by crafting a new law making it easier for him to sue reporters. This law, if challenged, would go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It could curtail press freedom across the nation.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has targeted one political enemy after another, from removing a top state prosecutor in Tampa who disagreed with him on abortion rights to promoting an “anti-woke” agenda that limits the teaching of racism in public schools and diversity hiring programs at universities. He even went after business behemoth Disney when its CEO opposed an educational bill, dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Now, Florida lawmakers — with the support of the governor — are taking aim at the media, pushing legislation that would dramatically weaken legal standards in place for more than a half century that protect the freedom of the press to report on politicians and other powerful public figures.

The bill would make it easier to sue media outlets for allegations of defamation and make it harder for journalists to do their jobs by undermining the use of unnamed sources, an important reporting tool — particularly for media trying to pull back the curtain on the dealings of elected officials.

Many First Amendment advocates and legal experts say it is clearly intended to muzzle reporters who serve as watch dogs for the public. “I see this as a deliberate effort to punish media organizations that have been critical of the governor and the Republican Legislature,” Thomas Julin, a First Amendment attorney with the Gunster law firm in Miami, said in an interview. “It’s doing that by stripping away protections that were seen as essential for those organizations to remain strong.

“It’s encouraging more people to file more damage claims and punitive damage claims against media organizations,” Julin told the Herald. “They’re trying to put them out of business. … What’s disturbing is that it’s meant to help DeSantis get elected as president — not because it’s good policy.”

The bill, filed by a GOP lawmaker this week, also poses a threat to press freedom beyond Florida. Given the governor’s clout in Tallahassee, it stands a solid chance of passage this spring in the Republican-controlled state Legislature and would likely spur more defamation cases in Florida, legal experts say.

Because of the clear-cut constitutional questions, the legislation could eventually be appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where at least two justices have already signaled they are interested in revisiting libel law and press protections.

The Florida legislation (HB991) aims to eliminate longstanding protections for the news media in their coverage of politicians, government officials and public figures. For starters, the bill directly challenges a 1964 landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, New York Times v. Sullivan, that created a formidable standard — “actual malice” — in defamation disputes.

When the Civil Rights-era case in Alabama was decided as a constitutional First Amendment issue, the Supreme Court unanimously defined the new actual malice standard as making a false statement about a public official “with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” Those words were critical because from that point forward, public officials, along with public figures later on, have been faced with proving that a media outlet knew its reporting was false or inaccurate to clear the “actual malice” bar in a defamation lawsuit.

If passed, Florida’s anti-media bill would be the only one of its kind in the nation. But First Amendment advocates fear other states could follow and the legislation could clear the path for weakening press protections across the county.

Two conservative Supreme Court justices, Clarence Thomas, who is admired by DeSantis, and Neil Gorsuch, already have expressed in prior libel case rulings their interest to reevaluate that bedrock legal principle, citing the rapidly changing digital landscape of news reporting propelled by rampant misinformation, inaccuracies and conspiracies posted on social media site.

The Court already demonstrated its indifference to precedent by overturning Roe v. Wade.

Read more at: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/article272580860.html#storylink=cpy