Florida’s new “anti-riot” law, which would allow harsh penalties for peaceful protesters, has been blocked by a federal judge.
The bill, which Republican Governor Ron DeSantis heavily endorsed, was ruled to be unconstitutional on Thursday by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker. The 90-page judgment found the law to be “vague and overbroad” and a violation of the First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly and the Constitution’s due process protections.
The bill states that peaceful protesters or innocent bystanders near demonstrations that turn violent are subject to criminal charges. It also makes destroying a memorial structure that honors historical figures or events a second-degree felony that carries a potential ten-year prison sentence. Judge Walker said that since it only takes “a handful of bad actors” to turn a peaceful demonstration into a violent clash, the court could not justify criminalizing innocent Floridians.
The law, which was passed earlier this year partially in response to the George Floyd protests, has been challenged by the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and other activist groups. Critics have said that the bill targets Black people and other people of color.
Attorneys for DeSantis argue that the bill will continue to allow peaceful protests while enforcing harsh penalties for destructive rioting.
DeSantis said that the state would appeal and that the ruling was “a foreordained conclusion,” according to The Washington Post.
“We will win that on appeal. I guarantee you we will win that on appeal,” DeSantis said.